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Raquenio v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 29, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Connie Raquenio (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe.[1] Having considered the parties' briefs, along with the entire record in this case, the Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to be supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and based upon proper legal standards. Accordingly, this Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits.


         At the time of her DIB application, Plaintiff was 56 years old with four or more years of college experience. AR 159. Prior to her alleged disability, Plaintiff worked as a disability representative, office assistant, patient account representative, and word processor. AR 159, 205-206. Plaintiff alleges that she became unable to work on February 1, 2013 because of major depression, paranoia, anxiety, fibromyalgia, degenerative joint disease, cervical radiculopathy, and temporomandibular joint disorder (“TMJ”). AR 204. Plaintiff later returned to work part time; she therefore alleges disability for a closed period from February 1, 2013, until April 1, 2014. AR 39-40.

         Plaintiff applied for benefits on August 5, 2013. AR 204. That application was denied initially and on reconsideration. On August 20, 2015, a hearing was held before ALJ Sharon L. Madsen. AR 36. Plaintiff, along with her attorney, appeared and testified. AR 36-64. The ALJ also heard testimony from Judith Najarian, a vocational expert. AR 58-62.

         In a decision dated September 18, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled because, despite some impairment, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work limited to simple, routine tasks with occasional public contact. AR 21. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final determination for purposes of judicial review. AR 1-6. This appeal followed.


         1. Scope of Review

         Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits under the Act. In reviewing findings of fact with respect to such determinations, this Court must determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla, ” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971), but less than a preponderance. Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119, n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975). It is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The record as a whole must be considered, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commission's conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). In weighing the evidence and making findings, the Commissioner must apply the proper legal standards. E.g., Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988). This Court must uphold the Commissioner's determination that the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards, and if the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

         2. Disability Standard

         In order to qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish that he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant must show that he or she has a physical or mental impairment of such severity that he or she is not only unable to do his or her previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Quang Van Han v. Bowen, 882 F.2d 1453, 1456 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden is on the claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990).

         IV. DISCUSSION [2]

         In her sole issue, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in finding her testimony regarding the extent of her pain and symptoms ...

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