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Marsha W. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 3, 2018

MARSHA W., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ROBYN M. REBERS Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney

          RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney

          MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel

          LEISA A. WOLF Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN United States Senior District Judge

         Plaintiff Marsha W. 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.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for the immediate calculation and award of benefits.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on December 2, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of April 13, 2011. Tr. 231, 234.[2] The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on May 20, 2016. Tr. 43-88. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing.

         The ALJ issued a decision on September 30, 2016, in which she found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 18-37. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d) that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on November 30, 2017, 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 November 17, 1959. Tr. 231. Plaintiff was 56 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff graduated from high school and has some college. Tr. 49. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a grocery-store department manager and a customer-service representative. Tr. 35.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to fibromyalgia, knee arthritis, obesity, depression, headaches, cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, and asthma. Tr. 31.

         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. 21-28.

         STANDARDS

         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).

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         I. The Regulatory ...


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