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Daily v. Astrue

December 4, 2008

ANTHONY C. DAILY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, SOCIAL SECURITY COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carolyn R. Dimmick United States District Judge

ORDER RE: DISABILITY APPEAL

Plaintiff Anthony Daily appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") who granted his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits under Title XVI of the SSA, 42 U.S.C. sections 1381-83f, but denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA" or the "Act"), 42 U.S.C sections 401-33.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS in part and REVERSES in part the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS the case for further administrative proceedings.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff is a fifty-three-year-old man, forty-five years old at his earliest alleged disability onset date. He has a high school education and work experience as a truck driver. Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits in February 2004 and again in in April 2005 alleging disability since January 2000. The February 2004 application was apparently denied by a different ALJ, however, it is not included in the record before this Court. His claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he timely requested an administrative law judge ("ALJ") hearing. On February 23, 2007, ALJ Alexis issued a decision without holding a hearing, indicating that the decision was "fully favorable" to Plaintiff and awarding him SSI benefits as of April 2005, and awarding no DIB benefits. AR 10, 17. The ALJ based the decision on Plaintiff's April 2005 application and found him disabled as of that date, rather than the disability onset date of January 2000 that was alleged in his February 2004 application. AR 14, 17.

Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council and review was denied, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 422.210 (2006). On March 14, 2008, Plaintiff initiated this civil action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

II. JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sections 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir. 2005). "Substantial evidence" is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld. Id.

IV. THE DISABILITY EVALUATION

As the claimant, Mr. Daily bears the burden of proving that he is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity" due to a physical or mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is disabled under the Act only if his impairments are of such severity that he is unable to do his previous work, and cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other substantial gainful activity existing in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof during steps one through four. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a claimant is found to be disabled at any step in the sequence, the inquiry ends without the need to consider subsequent steps.

Step one asks whether the claimant is presently engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of the disability. AR 16, Finding 1. At step two, the claimant must establish that he has one or more medically severe impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant does not have such impairments, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of "affective disorder, a schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, substance abuse in sustained remission, diabetes, degenerative joint disease and reduced hearing." AR 16, Finding 2. If the claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner moves to step three to determine whether the impairment meets or equals any of the listed impairments described in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). A claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the listings for the required twelve-month duration requirement is disabled. Id. In this case the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of any listed impairment. AR 16, Finding 3.

When the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner evaluates the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work to determine whether he can still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), ...


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