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Lana D. Hansen, Petitioner v. Michael J. Astrue

March 27, 2012

LANA D. HANSEN, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENT.



MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Currently pending before the Court for its consideration is Petitioner Lana Hansen's ("Petitioner") Petition for Review (Dkt. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed September 7, 2010. 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 17, 2006, alleging disability due to degenerative disk disease in her cervical and lumbar spine, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on August 26, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert Chester. After taking testimony from Petitioner and Ms. Welter, a vocational expert, ALJ Chester issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on September 23, 2008. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which granted her request for review and on July 30, 2009, the Appeals Council issued an order vacating the ALJ's decision due to improper evaluation of Petitioner's past relevant work.

A second hearing was held on April 29, 2010, before ALJ R.J. Payne. ALJ Payne heard testimony from Petitioner and medical expert Arthur Larber. ALJ Payne issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on May 13, 2010. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on July 9, 2010, making ALJ Payne's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 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 second hearing on April 29, 2010, Petitioner was 60 years of age. Petitioner did not receive a high school degree, and completed up to a portion of the ninth grade. Petitioner's prior work experience includes work as a motel clerk and home care provider.

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. 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 cervical and lumbar spine and her COPD 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 one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. 416.920(d), 416.925 or 416.926. 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 was able to perform her past relevant work as a motel clerk and home care provider. 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 found Petitioner retained the RFC to perform her past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five.

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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