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Crosby v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 3, 2013

ANGELLA FARR CROSBY, Petitioner,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court is Petitioner Angella Crosby's request for review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on April 10, 2012. (Dkt. 1) 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 HISTORY

Angella Crosby ("Petitioner") filed an application on December 27, 2007, for a period of disability insurance benefits, and an application for supplemental security income on December 31, 2007. In both applications, Petitioner alleged disability beginning August 2, 2006, from her bipolar and anxiety disorders, chronic asthma, and hypothyroidism. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. A hearing was conducted on July 20, 2010, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Marie Palachuk. ALJ Palachuk heard testimony from Petitioner, medical expert Margaret R. Moore, PhD., and vocational expert Daniel R. McKinney, Sr. At the time of the July 20, 2010 hearing, Petitioner was 38 years of age. Petitioner completed high school and three years of college coursework, and obtained a certificate in administrative accounting. Her prior work experience includes, among other work, work as a surface mine worker, bookkeeper, and data entry clerk.

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 August 2, 2006. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's asthma, bipolar disorder, and personality disorder were 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 any listed impairment. 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 the Petitioner retained the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional limitations: avoid concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants; limit to simple, repetitive, and well-learned tasks of three steps or less in a low stress environment; limit to superficial contact with coworkers and the public; and only occasional supervision by others. With this RFC, the ALJ concluded Petitioner could not perform any of her past relevant 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 concluded Plaintiff could work in other occupations, such as assembly occupations, inspector/checker, or hand packer/packager.

ALJ Palachuk issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on August 27, 2010. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on February 10, 2012. 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).

DISCUSSION

1. 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); Flaten 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. Flaten, 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 Commissioner's decision, because the Court "may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner." Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999).

When reviewing a case under the substantial evidence standard, the Court may question an ALJ's credibility assessment of a witness's testimony; however, an ALJ's credibility assessment is entitled to great weight, and the ALJ may disregard self-serving statements. Rashad v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1229, 1231 (9th Cir. 1990). Where the ALJ makes a careful consideration of subjective complaints but provides adequate reasons for rejecting them, the ALJ's well-settled role as the judge ...


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