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Rodarte v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 16, 2013

MARY J. RODARTE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS

CAROLYN S. OSTBY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Mary J. Rodarte ("Rodarte") seeks judicial review of Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(c). On February 1, 2013, then-Chief Judge Cebull referred this case to the undersigned for all pretrial proceedings. ECF 11. [1]

Now pending are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECFs 15 (Rodarte's motion) and 22 (Commissioner's motion). For the reasons stated below, the Court recommends that Rodarte's motion be denied, the Commissioner's motion be granted, and the ALJ's decision denying SSI be affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Rodarte filed her SSI application on April 7, 2008, claiming that she had been unable to work since August 1, 2001. Tr. 174. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Rodarte's application initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 126, 129-30. On April 19, 2010, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing. Tr. 40-106. On September 1, 2010, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Rodarte's claim for SSI. Tr. 21-33. On June 6, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied Rodarte's request for review, the ALJ's decision became final for purposes of judicial review. Tr. 1-5; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481 (2012). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court's review is limited. The Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only where the decision is not supported by substantial evidence or where the decision is based on legal error. Ryan v. Commr. of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id. (citing Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The Court must consider the record as a whole, considering both evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, and cannot affirm the ALJ "by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citation omitted).

III. BURDEN OF PROOF

A claimant is disabled for purposes of the Act if: (1) the claimant has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, and (2) the impairment or impairments are of such severity that, considering the claimant's age, education, and work experience, the claimant is not only unable to perform previous work, but the claimant cannot "engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Schneider v. Commr. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 974 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(B)).

In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).

1. The claimant must first show that he or she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.
2. If not so engaged, the claimant must next show that he or she has a severe impairment. Id.
3. The claimant is conclusively presumed disabled if his or her impairments meet or medically equal one contained in the Listing of Impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (hereafter "Listing of Impairments"). Id. If the claimant's impairments do not meet or medically equal one listed in the regulations, the analysis proceeds to the fourth step.
4. If the claimant is still able to perform his or her past relevant work, he or she is not disabled and the analysis ends here. Id. "If the claimant cannot do any work he or she did in the past, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at [this step] and the evaluation proceeds to the fifth and final step." Id. at 1098-99.
5. If the claimant is unable to perform his or her past relevant work due to a "severe impairment (or because [he or she does] not have any past relevant work)" the court will determine if the claimant is able to make an adjustment to perform other work, in light of his or her residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If an adjustment to other work is possible then the claimant is not disabled. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.

The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four, but at the fifth step the Commissioner bears the burden of establishing that there is other work in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Id. The Commissioner can meet this burden via the testimony of a vocational expert or reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2. Id. If the Commissioner is unable to meet this burden then the claimant is disabled and entitled to benefits. Id.

IV. THE ALJ's OPINION

The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process in considering Rodarte's claim. First, the ALJ found that Rodarte had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 7, 2008 - the date she filed her application for SSI. Tr. 23.

Second, the ALJ found that Rodarte has the following severe impairments: "hepatitis C; migraine headaches; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with mild spondylosis at C5-6; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); bipolar disorder; and generalized anxiety disorder[.]" Id.

Third, the ALJ found that Rodarte does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any one of the impairments ...


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