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Stephens v. Astrue

March 29, 2010

RYAN A. STEPHENS, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, 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 Ryan Stephens ("Petitioner") on November 10, 2008. The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record ("AR"), and for the reasons that follow, 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 August 16, 2005, alleging disability due to bipolar disorder as well as a fractured leg, ankle, and foot. (AR 74.) Petitioner's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a request for a hearing was timely filed. Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Alejandro Martinez held a hearing on October 1, 2007, after which he concluded in his Decision dated November 28, 2007, that Petitioner was not disabled. (AR 13-23.) The Appeals Council denied Petitioner's appeal of the ALJ's decision on September 24, 2008. (AR 3-5.) Petitioner appealed this final decision to this Court, which has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

At the time of the 2007 hearing before the ALJ, Petitioner was thirty-nine years of age. He has a bachelors degree and a Doctorate of Podiatric Medicine. His past relevant work includes work as a podiatrist.

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 August 16, 2005, the date the application was filed.*fn1 At step two, it must be determined whether claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's mild bipolar disorder II with depression, a fracture of the right ankle, status post corrective surgery, and a history of alcohol abuse "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, specifically Listing 12.04 for affective disorders or Listing 1.06 for fractures of a lower limb. 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 not able to perform his past relevant work as a podiatrist.

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. The ALJ found that Petitioner could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including a light unskilled job of small parts assembler and sedentary unskilled job of touchup screener. Based on the foregoing, ALJ Martinez 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 his physical or mental impairments are of such severity that he not only cannot do his previous work but is unable, considering his 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 must 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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