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Billings v. Astrue

March 23, 2010

GRETCHEN J. BILLINGS, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL 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 for consideration is the Petition for Review (Docket No. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed by Gretchen J. Billings ("Petitioner") on December 1, 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 July 26, 2006, alleging disability due to depression and anxiety disorders.

Petitioner's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a request for a hearing was timely filed.

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hayward C. Reed held a hearing on March 19, 2008, taking testimony from Petitioner and medical expert Allen Bostwick, Ph.D. (AR 300--352.) The hearing was continued so that additional evidence could be obtained. At the continued hearing held on July 24, 2008, Petitioner, medical expert Allen Bostwick, Ph.D., and vocational expert Karen Black testified. (AR 19--48.) ALJ Reed issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on August 7, 2008. (AR 10--18.)

Petitioner filed a timely appeal to the Appeals Council which denied her request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1--4.) Petitioner appealed this final decision to the Court. The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

At the time of the July 24, 2008 hearing, Petitioner was forty-eight years of age. She has a high school education and her past relevant work includes work as a file clerk, general laborer, waitress, child care worker, and sewing machine operator.

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 amended onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's depression with intermittent mania and anxiety "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 able to perform her past relevant work as a file clerk, general laborer, and sewing machine operator. Therefore, the ALJ issued a finding that Petitioner was not disabled at step four based upon her ability to perform her past relevant work.

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. Because the ALJ determined that Petitioner had the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five.

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 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 his physical or mental impairments are of such severity that she not only cannot do her previous work but is unable, considering her ...


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