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Lee H. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 9, 2019

RICHARD LEE H., [1] Plaintiff,
Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          KEVIN KERR 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

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



         Plaintiff Richard Lee H. seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which he 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.


         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on March 31, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of May 13, 2012. Tr. 220.[2] The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on September 14, 2017. Tr. 35-74. At the hearing Plaintiff amended his disability onset date to January 24, 2015. Tr. 39. Plaintiff was represented at the hearing. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified.

         The ALJ issued a decision on December 1, 2017, in which he found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 13-34. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d), that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on October 11, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-6. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).


         Plaintiff was born on June 8, 1971, and was 46 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 220. Plaintiff completed high school. Tr. 41. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as an auto-body helper and transportation equipment/autobody painter. Tr. 28.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to a “pinched nerve at ¶ 6-C7, ” chronic nerve damage, “right arm problems, ” and “breathing problems.” Tr. 113.

         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. 19-20, 26-28.


         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 his 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 ...

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