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Dulley v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 23, 2014

DAWN DULLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES A. REDDEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Dawn Dulley ("Dulley") brings this action to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income benefits ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and this matter is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

Dulley filed her applications for SSI and DIB on September 9, 2008, and March 3, 2010, alleging disability since October 1, 2004, due to fibromyalgia, stomach, bladder, scoliosis, depression, and alcoholism. Tr. 75, 78. Dulley was 45 years old on her alleged onset date. Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held on March 3, 2011. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found her not disabled. Dulley's request for review was denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

ALJ's DECISION

The ALJ found Dulley had the medically determinable severe impairments of chronic severe alcoholism, fibromyalgia, and cervical spine spondylosis and facet arthrosis. Tr. 21.

The ALJ found that Dulley's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Tr. 24.

The ALJ determined that Dulley "would be disabled when her alcoholism is factored in, if for no other reason than that she would miss work when drinking. Excluding her alcoholism, she is not disabled per the vocational expert's testimony, discussed below." Tr. 27.

The ALJ determined that, without considering alcohol abuse, Dulley retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of light work, lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, sitting for approximately six hours in an eight hour day, and walking and standing for four hours in an eight hour day. She can occasionally perform postural activities. She cannot climb ladders, stairs, ramps, and scaffolds, and should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. Tr. 23.

At step four, considering alcohol abuse, the ALJ found Dulley could not perform her past relevant work as a waitress, but if alcohol abuse was not considered, Dulley was capable of performing other work, including mail clerk, cleaner/polisher, and electronics worker. Tr. 29-30. Dulley argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly evaluate her alcohol abuse; (2) finding her not fully credible; and (3) improperly weighing medical opinions.

DISCUSSION

I. Drug and Alcohol Abuse

The Act and the Commissioner's regulations prohibit payment of benefits when drug and alcohol use is a material factor in a claimant's disability. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(C); 1382c(a)(3)(J), 20 C.F.R. § 416.935. An ALJ must conduct a drug and alcoholism analysis ("DAA analysis") by determining which of the claimant's disabling limitations would remain if the claimant stopped using drugs or alcohol. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535(b). If the remaining limitations would not be disabling, then the claimant's substance abuse is material and benefits must be denied. Id. , Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 745 (9th Cir. 2007). The claimant bears the burden of proving her substance abuse is not a material contributing factor to her disability. Id.

As noted, the ALJ found that, considering alcohol abuse, plaintiff was disabled. However, the ALJ found that plaintiff's remaining limitations if she ...


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