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Alton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 3, 2018

MARPLE ALTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MERRILL SCHNEIDER Schneider Kerr & Robichaux P.O. Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney. RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney DAVID MORADO Regional Chief Counsel MICHAEL S. HOWARD Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant.



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

         This matter is now before the Court on Plaintiff's Complaint in which she seeks review of the Commissioner's decision and the Commissioner's Motion to Remand (#18) for further administrative proceedings on the ground that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred at Step Five.

         Following a review of the record, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision, DENIES the Commissioner's Motion to Remand for further administrative proceedings, and REMANDS this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for the immediate calculation and award of benefits.


         Plaintiff filed her applications for SSI and DIB on October 9, 2013. Tr. 277, 279.[2] Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of August 10, 2013. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An ALJ held a hearing on May 13, 2016. Tr. 39-71. At the hearing Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney.

         On June 16, 2016, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 17-33. On November 15, 2016, that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-7. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).


         Plaintiff was born on July 19, 1953. Tr. 277. Plaintiff was 62 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff has a GED. Tr. 77. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a “material expeditor and expeditor.” Tr. 31.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to depression, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, bipolar disorder, and history of a stroke. Tr. 180.

         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. 23-24, 27-31.


         The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9thCir. 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).


         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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I). See also Keyser ...

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