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Nguyen v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 6, 2015

NICHOLAS N. NGUYEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Plaintiff: SARA L. GABIN, Lake Oswego, OR.

For Defendant: S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, RONALD K. SILVER, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR; DAVID MORADO, Regional Chief Counsel, THOMAS M. ELLSBERRY, Special Assistant United States Attorneys, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA.

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OPINION AND ORDER

ANNA J. BROWN, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Nicholas N. Nguyen seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act. On January

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29, 2015, the Commissioner responded by filing a Motion (#17) to Remand for further administrative proceedings.

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 final decision of the Commissioner, GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Commissioner's Motion to Remand, and REMANDS this case for an immediate award of benefits.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on July 10, 2007. Tr. 395.[1] His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on October 6, 2009. Tr. 74. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Tr. 74.

The ALJ issued a decision on March 12, 2010, in which he found Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 130. The Appeals Council, however, issued an order on December 30, 2011, in which it reversed the ALJ's decision, remanded the case to the ALJ, and ordered the ALJ to conduct a " supplemental hearing" and to issue a new decision. Tr. 140-43.

Accordingly, on May 15, 2012, the ALJ held a second hearing. Tr. 40. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff; Donna Taxon, M.A., one of Plaintiff's mental-health treatment providers; and a VE testified at the hearing. Tr. 40.

The ALJ issued a decision on June 15, 2012, in which he again found Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 32. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 31, 2014, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-3. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07, 120 S.Ct. 2080, 147 L.Ed.2d 80 (2000).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on April 27, 1965; was 47 years old on the date of the most recent hearing; and has a high-school diploma with two years of college. Tr. 395, 406. Plaintiff has prior relevant work experience as a cook and " cook's helper." Tr. 31.

Plaintiff alleges disability since June 9, 2007, due to anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Tr. 395, 399.

Except as 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. 23-30.

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 his 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)).

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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, 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

Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security 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. Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006). See also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii); Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

At Step Three the Commissioner must determine whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments and are so severe that they preclude substantial gainful activity. 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, known as Listings, are enumerated in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (Listed Impairments).

If the Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained, work-related physical and mental activities the claimant can still do on a regular and continuing basis despite his limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). See also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. " A 'regular and continuing basis' means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent schedule." SSR 96-8p. In other words, the Social Security Act does not require complete incapacity to be disabled. Taylor v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. ...


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