United States District Court, D. Oregon
LETICIA R. F., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
M. EVANS, Evans & Evans, PC, Attorneys for Plaintiff
J. WILLIAMS, RENATA GOWIE, Assistant United States Attorney,
MICHAEL W. PILE, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, MARTHA A.
BODEN, Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
Leticia R. F. seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration in
which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the
Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the
decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS
this matter for further proceedings.
October 30, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed her
application for DIB benefits. Tr. 39, 169-70. Plaintiff alleges
a disability onset date of September 10, 2010. Tr. 39, 169.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on
reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a
hearing on March 9, 2017. Tr. 39, 59-76. Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Plaintiff
was represented by an attorney at the hearing.
2, 2017, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he found
Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to
benefits. Tr. 39-51. Plaintiff requested review by the
Appeals Council. On February 9, 2018, 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).
April 13, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.
was born on August 11, 1964. Tr. 169. Plaintiff was forty-six
years old on her alleged disability onset date. Plaintiff has
more than a high-school education. Tr. 66. Plaintiff has past
relevant work experience as a data-entry clerk and accounting
clerk. Tr. 50.
alleges disability due to fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis,
bilateral neuropathy in her legs and feet, low lumbar pain,
edema, myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome, and upper back
and neck pain. Tr. 77.
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. 41-49.
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 Ato 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)).
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 Arelevant 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).
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).
The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation
One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (SGA). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). See
also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 648 F.3d 721,
724 (9th Cir. 2011).
Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant does not have any medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). See also Keyser, 648
F.3d at 724.
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.
§ 404.1520(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).
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 her
limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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, at *1. In other words,
the Social Security Act does not require complete incapacity
to be disabled. Taylor v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 659 F.3d 1228, 1234-35 (9th Cir. 2011)(citing
Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir. 1989)).
Four the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant retains the RFC to perform work she
has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.
Commissioner reaches Step Five, she must determine whether
the claimant is able to do any other work that exists in the
national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). See
also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724-25. Here the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to show a significant number of jobs
exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Lockwood v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d
1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010). The Commissioner may satisfy this
burden through the testimony of a VE or by reference to the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines (or the grids) set forth in the