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Troy G. Harris v. Michael J. Astrue

March 8, 2012

TROY G. HARRIS, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENT.



MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Currently pending before the Court is Petitioner Troy Harris' ("Petitioner") Petition for Review (Dkt. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on October 9, 2010. The Court has fully reviewed and considered the Petition for Review, 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 September 18, 2007, amending his date of alleged disability to August 14, 2007. In his petition, Petitioner alleged disability due to neck and back pain as well as psychological and sleeping disorders. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held before before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robin Henrie on April 14, 2010. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and Vocational Expert John F. Hurst, M.S., ALJ Henrie issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on May 11, 2010. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on August 10, 2010.

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 forty-five years of age. Petitioner completed a high school education. Due to his incarceration for fifteen years prior to his release date of August 14, 2007, Petitioner has no prior work experience.

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 his alleged onset date. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, as well as his adjustment disorder with depressed mood and generalized anxiety disorder, 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 do not meet or equal the criteria for any listed impairments, having specifically considered Listing 12.04 and 12.06 for his mood disorders and anxiety disorder. 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 had no past relevant work, and therefore proceeded to step five. If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, or in this case has no 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 Commissioner concluded that Petitioner has the RFC to perform the full range of light unskilled work, with limitations to accommodate Petitioner's physical and psychological impairments.

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 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 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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