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Joan B. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 11, 2019

VALERIE JOAN B., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          KATHLEEN R. DENT, Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, DANIEL S. JONES Law Offices of Charles E. Binder and Harry J. Binder, LLP, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney, RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney.

          MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel, MARTHA A. BODEN Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration, Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Valerie Joan B. seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title 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 further proceedings.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on July 8, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2014. Tr. 370-71.[1]The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on March 24, 2017. Tr. 235-59. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.

         The ALJ issued a decision on May 17, 2017, in which she found Plaintiff was not disabled before her December 31, 2016, date last insured and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 35-54. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d), that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on March 27, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 4-9. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on May 29, 1963, and was 53 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 370. Plaintiff completed an Associates Degree. Tr. 428. The ALJ found Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a front-desk clerk and janitor. Tr. 45.

         Plaintiff alleges disability during the relevant period due to back pain, leg pain, fibromyalgia, and depression. Tr. 260.

         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. 43-45.

         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 Sequential Evaluation

         The Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Each step is potentially dispositive.

         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). 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 impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ ...


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