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Thomas v. Commissioner

March 30, 2010

DEBRA THOMAS, PETITIONER,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Larry M. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Currently pending before the Court is Debra Thomas's Petition for Review (Docket No. 1). Thomas seeks review to set aside of the final decision of Respondent denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. She brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g).

Having carefully reviewed the record and being otherwise fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order.

I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Debra G. Thomas ("Petitioner" or "Claimant") applied for disability insurance benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act") on March 20, 2001, and was denied on May 25, 2001. (AR 41). Petitioner reapplied for benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Act on June 28, 2004. (AR 16). Petitioner alleges the following impairments: degenerative disc disease, asthma, diabetes mellitus, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, a depressive disorder, and an anxiety disorder, characterized by post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). (AR 19--20). Petitioner alleges that the combination of these impairments, "especially the mental impairments of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, prevented her from sustaining any type of work-related activity due to lack of energy, anhedonia, agoraphobia, sleep disturbance, panic attacks, nightmares, appetite disturbance, and suicidal ideation." (AR 20). The Commissioner denied Petitioner's application initially, and again after reconsideration, after which Petitioner filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (AR 16). ALJ Hayward C. Reed held a hearing on June 21, 2006, in Boise, ID, where the Petitioner appeared with her attorney, Andrea Cardon Magee. (AR 677). Medical Expert, Dr. James Bruce, and Vocational Expert, Anne Aastum, also appeared and testified at the hearing. Id.

On September 19, 2006, the ALJ denied Petitioner's claim on the ground that during the period of the claimed disability, "the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months." (AR 19).

Petitioner requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council denied review on March 14, 2008, making the AJL's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (AR 5--7).

Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Petitioner timely filed the instant action. Petition for Review (Docket No. 1). Petitioner requests that the ALJ's decision be reversed or, in the alternative, that this matter be remanded for an ALJ hearing de novo. Id. at p. 2.

II. BACKGROUND

At the time of the most recent hearing before the ALJ, Petitioner was fifty-one years old. (AR 677). In her application, Petitioner claims a disability onset date of January 31, 1994,*fn1 through her last insured date of December 31, 1999. (AR 18). She had completed fourteen years of formal education, including two years of college and significant military technical school training. (AR 77). Petitioner had work experience in the military as a passenger/household good specialist and personnel technician prior to retiring in April 1994. (AR 18). Petitioner has stated that due to her disability, she has been completely unable work. (AR 22).

Upon review, the ALJ determined that Petitioner did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments making her eligible for benefits. (AR 19). Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that, in denying her application, Petitioner had not met her burden under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529 or 20 C.F.R. 404.1527. (AR 19).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

It is undisputed that the burden of proof rests upon the Petitioner to establish entitlement to disability benefits. Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). In evaluating the evidence at an administrative hearing, the ALJ must follow a five-part sequential process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2005).

If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based upon proper legal standards, then it will be upheld. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2000); Matney ex rel. Matney v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992); Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1200 (9th Cir. 1990). Findings of fact by the ALJ are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Vidal v. Harris, 637 F.2d 710, 712 (9th Cir. 1981). In other words, if there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual determinations, ...


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