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Stewart v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 15, 2014

SARAH JANE STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant

For Plaintiff: KATHRYN TASSINARI, ROBERT A. BARON, Harder Wells Baron & Manning, PC, Eugene, OR.

For Defendant: S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR; DAVID MORADO, Regional Chief Counsel, HEATHER L. GRIFFITH, Special Assistant United States Attorneys, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA.

OPINION

Page 1210

OPINION AND ORDER

ANNA J. BROWN, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Sarah Jane Stewart seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments under Title XVI.

This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Following a thorough review of the record, the Court REVERSES the decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for the calculation and award of benefits.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on July 7, 2009. Tr. 11. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on October 28, 2011. Tr. 11. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Tr. 11. Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Tr. 11.

The ALJ issued a decision on January 26, 2012, in which he found Plaintiff was

Page 1211

not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 21. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 2, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 2.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on May 5, 1982, and was 29 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 158. Plaintiff has an eleventh-grade education. Tr. 95-96. She has past work experience as a caregiver. Tr. 204.

Plaintiff alleges she has been disabled since November 9, 2008, due to a chronic-pain disorder, fear of people and crowds, long-term depression, back and neck pain, panic disorder, and a learning disability. Tr. 203.

Except when noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. After carefully reviewing the medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. See Tr. 13-21.

STANDARDS

The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate her inability " to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment 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). The ALJ must develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011)(quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).

The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Breves v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is " relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Molina, 674 F.3d. at 1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more than a " mere scintilla" of evidence but less than a preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).

The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

DISABILITY ANALYSIS

I. The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation

The Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). See also Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920.

Page 1212

Each step is potentially dispositive.

At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. d 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

At Step Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant does not have any medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

At Step Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, ...


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