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Lyle v. Astrue

March 3, 2010

STEPHANIE M. LYLE, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Candy W. Dale Chief United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Introduction

Currently pending before the Court is the Petition for Review (Docket No. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed by Stephanie Lyle ("Petitioner") on September 12, 2008. The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record ("AR"). For the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

I. Procedural and Factual History

Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on January 5, 2004, alleging disability due to fibromyalgia, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. Petitioner's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a request for a hearing was timely filed. Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Lloyd Hartford held a hearing on January 25, 2006, which was continued until June 21, 2006, after which he concluded in his Decision dated November 16, 2006, that Petitioner was not disabled. (AR 15-25.) The Appeals Council denied Petitioner's appeal of the ALJ's decision on August 6, 2008. (AR 4-6.) Petitioner appealed this final decision to the Court, which has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

At the time of the most recent 2006 hearing before ALJ Hartford, Petitioner was thirty-nine years of age. She has a high school education and a college degree. Her past relevant work includes clerk-typist, aircraft mechanic, general office clerk, and receptionist.

II. Sequential Process

The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is engaged in substantially gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of December 31, 2000. At step two, it must be determined whether claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and fibromyalgia "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations.

Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for any listed impairments. If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine at step four whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found Petitioner was unable to perform any past relevant work as either a clerk typist, aircraft mechanic, general office clerk, or receptionist.

If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate at step five that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant levels in the national economy, after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience. At step five, the ALJ found Petitioner could perform unskilled medium work activity. Based on the foregoing, ALJ Hartford issued a finding of not disabled.

III. Standard of Review

The Petitioner bears the burden of showing that disability benefits are proper because of the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); Rhinehart v. Fitch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if her physical or mental impairments are of such severity that she not only cannot do her previous work but is unable, considering her age, education, and work experience, to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

On review, the Court is instructed to uphold the decision of the Social Security Commissioner if the decision is supported by substantial evidence and is not the product of legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Universal Camera Corp. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 340 U.S. 474 (1951); Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (as amended); DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance, Jamerson v Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1997), and "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).

The Court should not disturb the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence, even though other evidence may exist which supports the petitioner's claims. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Flatten v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, will be conclusive. Flatten, 44 F.3d at 1457. It is well-settled that if there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the Commissioner, the decision must be upheld even when the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the ...


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