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Jordan v. Astrue

September 27, 2010

MICHELLA JORDAN, 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

Pending before the Court for its consideration is the Petition for Review (Docket No. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed by Petitioner Michella Jordan ("Petitioner") on July 15, 2009. 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.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on October 10, 2006, alleging disability due to seizures, headaches, and bipolar disorder with depression. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on November 24, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John C. Arkoosh. ALJ Arkoosh heard testimony from Petitioner, vocational expert Anne Aestum, and medical expert Dr. Tom Atkin. ALJ Arkoosh issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on December 24, 2008, and Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on May 12, 2009. 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 hearing, Petitioner was thirty-six years of age. Petitioner has a high school education, and her prior work experience includes work as a Certified Nurse's Assistant ("CNA") and customer service representative.

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 February 28, 2006. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, pseudo-seizure disorder, and personality disorder with cluster "B" features 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 mental impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments, specifically because her mental impairments did not satisfy either the paragraph B or paragraph C criteria in listing sections 12.04 and 12.06. If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's 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, due to her mental limitations, was not able to perform her past relevant work as a CNA, which is semi-skilled 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. At step five, the ALJ found that Petitioner had the ability, based upon her RFC, to perform other work that exists in significant levels in the national economy, such as cashier II, ticket taker, or survey worker, and therefore issued a finding that Petitioner was not disabled.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 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 cannot disturb the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence, even though other evidence may exist that 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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