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April Lynn Stindt v. Michael J. Astrue

August 9, 2012

APRIL LYNN STINDT, 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 the Petition for Review (Dkt. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed by April Lynn Stindt ("Petitioner") on April 23, 2010. The Court has reviewed the Petition 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 July 8, 2008, alleging minimal disc bulge at L5-S1, obesity, and infrequent migraine headaches. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on September 22, 2009, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Paul T. Hebda. After hearing testimony from Petitioner, ALJ Hebda issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on April 23, 2010. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on June 16, 2011.

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 30 years of age. Petitioner completed the 10th grade. Petitioner's prior work experience includes work as a cocktail server, deli worker, motel housekeeper, and shipping clerk for a magazine store.

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. (AR 13.) At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's minimal disc bulge at L5-S1, obesity, and infrequent migraine headaches severe within the meaning of the Regulations. (AR 13.)

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 the listed impairments. Specifically, the ALJ found that (1) the claimant's spinal impairment does not meet or medically equal a listed impairment, (2) there is no specific listing for claimant's migraine headaches, and (3) obesity has been deleted from the impairments listings, although it was still considered by the ALJ to the extent it caused or contributed to Petitioner's bodily system impairments. (AR 15.) Because the 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 not able to perform her past relevant work in food preparation. (AR 21.) 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, when applying the rule set forth in the Medical Vocational Guidelines, claimant is able to perform unskilled light work and is therefore "not disabled." (AR 22.)

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 ...


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