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Warner v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 19, 2017

ALICIA R. WARNER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          KATHERINE EITENMILLER ROBERT A. BARON, Harder Wells Baron & Manning, PC, Attorneys for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS, United States Attorney

          JANICE E. HEBERT, Assistant United States Attorney

          DAVID MORADO Regional Chief Counsel, ERIN F. HIGHLAND, Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration, Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Alicia R. Warner 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) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final 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 the immediate calculation and payment of benefits.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on January 27, 2012, and alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 1995. Tr. 19, 157.[2] Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on April 30, 2014. Tr. 40. At the hearing Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney.

         On June 4, 2014, the ALJ issued an opinion in which she found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 19-29. On December 23, 2015, that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-6. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on October 16, 1976. Tr. 157. Plaintiff was 37 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 60, 312, 314. Plaintiff has a high-school diploma with some college education. Tr. 44, 179. Plaintiff does not have any past relevant work experience. Tr. 28.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, “[m]ild mental retardation, ” Asperger syndrome, anxiety and panic disorders, “chronic pain, ” “chronic fatigue, ” and scoliosis. Tr. 178.

         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. 23-28.

         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. 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

         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 v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).

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


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