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Humphries v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 11, 2018

AMBER CHRISTINE H.[1], Plaintiff,

          ARI D. HALPERN Halpern Law Group Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney

          RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney

          MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel

          MICHAEL S. HOWARD Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant



         Plaintiff Amber Christine H. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and 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.


         On May 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB benefits. In that application Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2007. Tr. 121.[2] That application was denied on September 6, 2012. Tr. 121-33. Plaintiff did not request reconsideration of that denial. Tr. 230.

         On March 18, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed her application for SSI benefits. Tr. 15, 84. In her application Plaintiff alleges a disability onset date of May 1, 2008. Tr. 15. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. On January 26, 2017, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to March 14, 2012, and requested her prior application be reopened. Tr. 15, 44, 230. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on February 9, 2017. Tr. 15, 38-83. Plaintiff, a vocational expert (VE), and a medical expert testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

         On March 29, 2017, the ALJ issued an opinion in which she found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 27. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. On December 5, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         On February 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff was born on October 27, 1980. Tr. 26. Plaintiff was thirty-two years old on the date that she filed her application for SSI benefits. Tr. 26. Plaintiff attended school through the 11th grade. Tr. 26, 238. The ALJ found Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a sandwich-maker, cashier, and service-station attendant. Tr. 25-26.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, acid reflux, nerve pain, anxiety issues, and asthma. Tr. 84.

         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. 20-25.


         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, 459B60 (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 evaluating a claimant's testimony, 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 ...

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