United States District Court, W.D. Washington
Noted for December 19, 2014.
For Grant Warrick, Plaintiff: Christopher H Dellert, DELLERT BAIRD LAW OFFICES, PLLC, SILVERDALE, WA.
For Carolyn W Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Kerry Jane Keefe, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (SEA), SEATTLE, WA; Richard A Morris, LEAD ATTORNEY, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, SEATTLE, WA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Karen L. Strombom, United States Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of his applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income (" SSI") benefits. This matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (1) (B) and Local Rule MJR 4(a) (4) and as authorized by Mathews, Secretary of H.E.W. v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 96 S.Ct. 549, 46 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976). After reviewing the parties' briefs and the remaining record, the undersigned submits the following Report and Recommendation for the Court's review, recommending that for the reasons set forth below, defendant's decision to deny benefits be reversed and this matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On February 11, 2011, plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and another one for SSI benefits, alleging in both applications he became disabled beginning July 22, 2010. See ECF #10, Administrative Record (" AR") 19. Both applications were denied upon initial administrative review on May 16, 2011, and on reconsideration on August 4, 2011. See id. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (" ALJ") on November 19, 2012, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert. See AR 35-73.
In a decision dated December 7, 2012, the ALJ determined plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 19-30. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council on February 3, 2014, making that decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the " Commissioner"). See AR 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481. On April 8, 2014, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. See ECF #3. The administrative record was filed with the Court on July 7, 2014. See ECF #10. The parties have completed their briefing, and thus this matter is now ripe for the Court's review.
Plaintiff argues defendant's decision to deny benefits should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings, because the ALJ erred in finding him to be capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned agrees the ALJ so erred, and thus erred in determining plaintiff to be not disabled. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that defendant's decision to deny benefits be reversed on this basis, and that this matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings.
The determination of the Commissioner that a claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court, if the " proper legal standards" have been applied by the Commissioner, and the " substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports" that determination. Hoffman v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Batson v. Commissioner of Social Security Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Carr v. Sullivan, 772 F.Supp. 522, 525 (E.D. Wash. 1991) (" A decision supported by substantial evidence will, nevertheless, be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision.") (citing Brawner v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1987)).
Substantial evidence is " such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (citation omitted); see also Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193 (" [T]he Commissioner's findings are upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record."). " The substantial evidence test requires that the reviewing court determine" whether the Commissioner's decision is " supported by more than a scintilla of evidence, although less than a preponderance of the evidence is required." Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975). " If the evidence admits of more than one rational interpretation, " the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984) (" Where there is conflicting evidence sufficient to support either outcome, we must affirm the decision actually made.") (quoting Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971)).
Defendant employs a five-step " sequential evaluation process" to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any particular step thereof, the disability determination is made at that step, and the sequential evaluation process ends. See id. If a disability determination " cannot be made on the basis of medical factors alone at step three of that process, " the ALJ must identify the claimant's " functional limitations and restrictions" and assess his or her " remaining capacities for work-related activities." Social Security Ruling (" SSR"
) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 *2. A claimant's residual functional capacity (" RFC") assessment is used at step four of the sequential disability evaluation ...