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Galasso v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 20, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARY ALICE THEILER, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Denise M. Galasso proceeds through counsel in her appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and all memoranda of record, the Court REVERSES and REMANDS for further proceedings.


Plaintiff was born on XXXX, 1972.[1] She completed high school and two years of college, and has worked as a property manager, homeless shelter coordinator, quality assurance technician, manufacturing laborer and machinist, and radio reporter. (AR 198, 205.)

Plaintiff applied for DIB on June 17, 2009. (AR 79.) That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (AR at 80-82, 87-88, 90.) On July 14, 2011, ALJ Laura Valente held a hearing, taking testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 28-77.) On August 24, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 10-22.) The Appeals Council denied review (AR 1-6), and Plaintiff appealed the Commissioner's decision to this Court.


The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2000). At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is gainfully employed. The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2006, the original[2] alleged onset date. (AR 12.) At step two, it must be determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and depression were severe. (AR 12-13.) Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment. (AR 13-14.)

If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine at step four whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), such that she can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. All of her postural activities are limited to frequent, but she can occasionally climb ladders and crawl. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibration. The ALJ also found that, mentally, Plaintiff can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine instructions associated with unskilled work, and that she can understand, remember, and carry out more complex tasks but only for up to two-thirds of a workday. She can understand and carry out work tasks for two hours at a time, with usual and customary breaks, throughout an eight-hour workday. She can work superficially with the general public, and work in coordination with a small group of 1-3 co-workers. She can meet average production standards. (AR 14-20.)

With this assessment, the ALJ found Plaintiff able to perform her past relevant work as a warehouse worker. (AR 20.) She also found that, in the alternative, Plaintiff could perform the requirements of other representative occupations such as bottle packer, laundry folder, and motel cleaner. (AR 20-21.)

This Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to whether the decision is in accordance with the law and the findings supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993). Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If there is more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must uphold that decision. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by (1) rejecting the opinions of treating physician Susana Escobar, M.D.; (2) rejecting the opinion of examining psychologist Phyllis Sanchez, Ph.D.; (3) discounting her credibility; (4) rejecting the statement provided by her mother, Linda Galasso; and (5) failing to discuss the observations of Social Security Administration staff. The Commissioner argues that the ...

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