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Silvanna D. Whitworth v. Michael J. Astrue

September 24, 2012

SILVANNA D. WHITWORTH, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Mikel H. Williams United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Currently pending before the Court for its consideration is PetitionerSilvanna D. Whitworth's ("Petitioner") Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed May 12, 2011. Petition, Dkt. 1. The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memorandums, and the administrative record ("AR"). For the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

Procedural and Factual History

Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on February 15, 2009, alleging disability due to lumbrosacral degenerative disk disease, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. Petitioner's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a request for a hearing was timely filed.

Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Moira Ausems held a hearing on January 27, 2010, taking testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert. (AR 28-52.) ALJ Ausems issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on March 31, 2010. (AR 15-24.) Petitioner filed a timely appeal to the Appeals Council which denied her request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-4.) Petitioner appealed this final decision to this 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 44 years old. She has a twelfth grade education and has taken some college classes. Her past relevant work includes telemarketer (sales) and internet marketer (advertising). (AR 23, 45-47, 112, 122.)

II.

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. The claimant has the burden of proving a disability in the first four steps of the sequential evaluation after which the burden moves to the Commissioner at the fifth step. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 .3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of February 2, 2008. (AR 15.)

At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner's lumbrosacral degenerative disk disease, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder are "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations. (AR 17.)

Step three asks whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals the criteria for the listed impairments. (AR 18.) If the claimant's impairments or combination of 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.

At step four, the ALJ found Petitioner was able to perform a wide range of light work (limited to the performance of semi-skilled SVP-4 level tasks due to the effects of mental symptomatology, pain, and medication side effects) and her past relevant work as a telephone solicitor. (AR 19-23.)

If the 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. Here, having found Petitioner not disabled at step four, the ALJ was not required to proceed to step five. However, the ALJ alternatively found that even if Petitioner could not perform her past relevant work, she retained the capacity to perform a wide range of sedentary jobs existing in the economy such as surveillance system monitor and charge account clerk. (AR 23-24.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Petitioner was not disabled even if she were limited to the greater degree described in a hypothetical to the vocational expert. (AR 23-24.)

III.

Standard of Review The 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. ยง 423(d)(1)(A). 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, ...


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