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Weiner v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

July 9, 2013

Shelly Rae Weiner, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER

JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal from the Administrative Law Judge's denial of Plaintiff's Title II application for disability insurance benefits.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 5, 2009, Plaintiff Shelly Rae Weiner filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income with the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"). (Record Transcript ("TR") 18). Both applications alleged that Plaintiff's disability began on April 2, 2008. ( Id. ). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on October 1, 2009, and upon reconsideration they were denied again on April 1, 2010. ( Id. ).

On May 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ( Id. ). Plaintiff appeared and testified before the ALJ on June 13, 2011. ( Id. ). On July 22, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff suffered from severe atrial fibrillation; epilepsy; chronic lower back and cervical disorders; rheumatoid arthritis; scoliosis; obesity; bipolar disorder; and depressive disorder. (TR 20). However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act because she retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (TR 27). Accordingly, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits. (TR 28).

Following the ALJ's denial of Plaintiff's claim, Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Appeals Council, Office of Hearings and Appeals, Social Security Administration. On January 24, 2012, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision. (TR 1).

On March 21, 2012, Plaintiff filed her Complaint for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits with this Court, which is the subject of this appeal. (Doc. 1). On September 25, 2012, Plaintiff filed an opening brief (the "Brief") asking the Court to remand the case for determination of benefits. (Doc. 17 at 24-25). In the Brief, Plaintiff argues that the Court should remand the matter for three primary reasons: because (1) the ALJ erred by implicitly rejecting medical opinion evidence, (2) the ALJ erred by rejecting Plaintiff's testimony in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to do so, and (3) the ALJ erred by finding Plaintiff had the mental capacity to perform unskilled work. ( Id. at 15-24).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The Commissioner's decision to deny benefits will be overturned "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation omitted). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).

"The inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached by the ALJ." Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support a decision, this Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. "Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which must be upheld; and in reaching h[er] findings, the ALJ is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence." Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453 (citations omitted). If there is sufficient evidence to support the Commissioner's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. See Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990). The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, if on the whole record before this Court, substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, this Court must affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

A. Definition of Disability

To qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must show, among other things, that she is "under a disability." 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). "The mere existence of an impairment is insufficient proof of a disability." Matthews v. Shalala, 10 F.3d 678, 680 (9th Cir. 1993) (citing Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642-43 (9th Cir. 1982)). Disability has "a severity and durational requirement for recognition under the [Social Security] Act that accords with the remedial purpose of the Act." Flaten v. Sec'y of Health & Human Svcs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1459 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A person is "under a disability only if h[er] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but cannot, considering h[er] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Id. at § 423(d)(2)(A).

"A claimant bears the burden of proving that an impairment is disabling." Matthews, 10 F.3d at 680 (quoting Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 849 (9th Cir. 1985)). Thus, "[t]he applicant must show that [s]he is precluded from engaging in not only h[er] previous work, ' but also from performing any other kind of ...


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