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Louise H. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 26, 2019

STEPHANIE LOUISE H., [1]Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MERRILL SCHNEIDER Schneider Kerr & Robichaux, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney, RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney, MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel LISA GOLDOFTAS Special Assistant United States Attorney, Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Stephanie Louise 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. 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 for further administrative proceedings.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         On October 3, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB benefits. Tr. 19, 149-50.[2] Plaintiff alleges a disability onset date of April 7, 2013. Tr. 19, 149. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on April 4, 2017. Tr. 19, 38-62. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

         On May 23, 2017, the ALJ issued an opinion in which she found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 19-29. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. On May 22, 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).

         On July 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on February 7, 1973. Tr. 27, 149. Plaintiff was 40 years old on her alleged disability onset date. Plaintiff has completed high school, attended college, and obtained an Associate Degree. Tr. 27, 42. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a lab-sample carrier. Tr. 27.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to anxiety, depression, "liver," and "weak bones." Tr. 64.

         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. 23-26.

         STANDARDS

         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 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).

         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).

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         I. The Regulatory ...


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