United States District Court, W.D. Washington
LEE R. HOTTELL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JAMES P. DONOHUE, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Lee R. Hottell appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") that denied his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83f, after a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and REMANDED for a finding of disability.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff is a 68-year-old man with an eleventh grade education and a prior certification as a real estate agent. Administrative Record ("AR") at 98, 594. His past work experience includes employment as a real estate agent, insurance salesperson, and retail clerk. AR at 93. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in January 2001. Id.
On October 9, 2001, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and DIB, alleging an onset date of July 19, 2001. AR at 83-85, 271-73. Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled due to gout, arthritis, allergies, and asthma. AR at 92.
The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claim initially and on reconsideration. AR at 45-48, 51-53, 275-78, 280-82. On February 12, 2004, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR at 18-25. After reviewing additional evidence, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR at 5-9. Plaintiff requested judicial review of the ALJ's decision, and the U.S. District Court granted the parties' stipulated motion to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand the case for further administrative proceedings. AR at 377-78.
The ALJ on remand again found Plaintiff not disabled, in a decision dated August 23, 2007. AR at 517-29. The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. AR at 530-33. The ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled, in a decision dated June 30, 2009. AR at 366-76. Plaintiff sought judicial review, and the U.S. District Court reversed and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. AR at 673-74, 686-710.
The ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled, in a decision dated June 27, 2014. AR at 659-68. On September 28, 2014, Plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the Commissioner's most recent decision. Dkt. 1, 3.
Jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir. 2005). "Substantial evidence" is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld. Id.
IV. EVALUATING DISABILITY
As the claimant, Mr. Hottell bears the burden of proving that he is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity" due to a physical or mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is disabled under the Act only if his impairments are of such severity that he is unable to do his previous work, and cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, ...