United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
F. BECKERMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
(“Plaintiff”) brings this appeal challenging the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
(“Commissioner”) denial of her applications for
child insurance benefits and supplemental security income
under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security
The only issue in dispute on appeal is whether the Court
should remand this case for further proceedings or an award
of benefits. The Court has jurisdiction to hear this appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For
the reasons explained below, the Court grants in part the
Commissioner's motion to remand and remands this case for
an award of benefits.
district court may set aside a denial of benefits only if the
Commissioner's findings are “‘not supported
by substantial evidence or [are] based on legal
error.'” Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th
Cir. 2006)). Substantial evidence is defined as
“‘more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but
less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Id. (quoting Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)).
district court “cannot affirm the Commissioner's
decision ‘simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.'” Holohan v.
Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1201 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
1999)). Instead, the district court must consider the entire
record, weighing the evidence that both supports and detracts
from the Commissioner's conclusions. Id. Where
the record as a whole can support either a grant or a denial
of Social Security benefits, the district court
“‘may not substitute [its] judgment for the
[Commissioner's].'” Bray, 554 F.3d at
1222 (quoting Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149,
1152 (9th Cir. 2007)).
was born in August 1987, making her twenty-one years old on
December 1, 2008, the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 24,
81, 97.) Plaintiff graduated from high school and earned an
associate's degree. (Tr. 30, 34, 53, 55.) Plaintiff has
past relevant work experience as a medical records coder and
forest worker. (Tr. 34, 72-74.) In her applications for
Social Security benefits, Plaintiff alleges disability due
primarily to bipolar disorder and depression. (Tr. 54, 62,
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially
and upon reconsideration, and on April 22, 2015, Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 24.) Plaintiff and a vocational
expert (“VE”) appeared and testified at a hearing
held on February 28, 2017. (Tr. 50-79.) On April 26, 2017,
the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's
applications for benefits. (Tr. 24-36.) Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of that decision.
claimant is considered disabled if he or she is unable 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). “Social Security
Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for
determining whether an applicant is disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act.” Keyser v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir.
2011). Those five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is
currently engaged in any substantial gainful activity; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether
the claimant can return to any past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing other work that
exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
Id. at 724-25. The claimant bears the burden of
proof for the first four steps. Bustamante v.
Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001). If the
claimant fails to meet the burden at any of those steps, the
claimant is not disabled. Id.; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987).
Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five of the
sequential analysis, where the Commissioner must show the
claimant can perform other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, “taking into
consideration the claimant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and work experience.”
Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100. If the Commissioner fails
to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled.
Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954 (citations omitted).
applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine if Plaintiff is disabled. (Tr. 24-36.) At step one,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2008, the
alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 26.) At step two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: “[B]ipolar disorder; major depressive
disorder; [and] gastroesophageal reflux disease
(GERD).” (Tr. 26.) At step three, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or
equals a listed impairment. (Tr. 27.) The ALJ then concluded
that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work, subject to these
limitations: (1) Plaintiff cannot be exposed to workplace
hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights,
(2) Plaintiff can “understand, remember, and carry out
only short and simple instructions and can only make simple
work-related judgments and decisions, ” and (3)
Plaintiff can have no more than “frequent interactive
contact” with the general public, coworkers, and
supervisors. (Tr. 28.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a
medical records coder and forest worker. (Tr. 34.) At step
five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled
because a significant number of jobs existed in the national
economy that she could perform, including work as a photocopy
machine operator, dishwasher, and shelving clerk. (Tr. 35.)
discussed above, the only issue in dispute on appeal is
whether the Court should remand this case for further
administrative proceedings or an award of benefits. As
explained below, Plaintiff satisfies the credit-as-true
standard, and the Court does not have serious doubt about
whether Plaintiff is disabled. Accordingly, the Court grants
in part the Commissioner's motion to remand and remands
this case for an award of benefits.
when a court of appeals reverses an administrative
determination, ‘the proper course, except in rare
circumstances, is to remand to the agency for additional
investigation or explanation.'” Benecke v.
Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 595 (9th Cir. 2004) (citation
omitted). In a number of cases, however, the Ninth Circuit
has “stated or implied that it would be an abuse of
discretion for a district court not to remand for an award of
benefits when [the three-part credit-as-true standard is]
met.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1021
(9th Cir. 2014). The credit-as-true standard is met if the
following conditions are satisfied: (1) “the ALJ has
failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting
evidence, whether claimant testimony or medical opinion,
” (2) “if the improperly discredited evidence
were credited as true, the ALJ would be required to find the
claimant disabled on remand, ” and (3) “the
record has been fully developed and further administrative
proceedings would serve no useful purpose.”
Id. at 1020 (citations omitted).