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Harty v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 28, 2014

NICOLE HARTY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

JAMES S. COON, Swanson Thomas & Coon & Newton, Portland, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, DAVID MORADO, Regional Chief Counsel, KATY REIF, Special Assistant United States Attorneys Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANNA J. BROWN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Nicole Harty seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's application for 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).

For the reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Opinion and Order.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on March 11, 2010. Tr. 11, 169. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on November 9, 2011. Tr. 11. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Tr. 11.

The ALJ issued a decision on June 29, 2011, in which she found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 18. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 11, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on October 3, 1982, and was 29 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 30, 169. Plaintiff completed a general equivalency degree. Tr. 32.

Plaintiff alleges disability since March 16, 2004, due to hearing problems, lack of bowel control, and memory loss. Tr. 174.

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 except where noted. See Tr. 13-18.

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 Brewes 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. Conim'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. § 416.920. 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. 20 C.F.R. § 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. § ...


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