United States District Court, W.D. Washington
STEPHEN D. LYONS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JAMES P. DONOHUE, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Stephen D. Lyons appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") that denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33, 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 further proceedings.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff is a 50-year-old man with an eleventh-grade education. Administrative Record ("AR") at 57, 96. His past work experience includes employment as a machinist and gardener. AR at 316. Plaintiff worked in 2011, but has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his amended alleged onset date. AR at 35-36.
On June 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging an onset date of March 31, 2005. AR at 56, 96, 98. Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled due to cellulitis streptococcus; sciatica; and pain in his wrist, shoulder, arm, thumb, pinky, and elbow. AR at 300.
The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claim initially and on reconsideration. AR at 118-24, 126-30. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which took place on December 5, 2012, and March 18, 2013. AR at 52-95. On April 11, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and denied benefits based on her finding that Plaintiff could perform a specific job existing in significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 33-46. Plaintiff's administrative appeal of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, AR at 1-6, making the ALJ's ruling the "final decision" of the Commissioner as that term is defined by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On November 3, 2014, Plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 1.
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.
The Court may direct an award of benefits where "the record has been fully developed and further administrative proceedings would serve no useful purpose." McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1076 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1292 (9th Cir. 1996)). The Court may find that this occurs when:
(1) the ALJ has failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the claimant's evidence; (2) there are no outstanding issues that must be resolved before a determination of disability can be made; and (3) it is clear from the record that the ALJ would be required to find the claimant disabled if he considered the claimant's evidence.
Id. at 1076-77; see also Harman v. Apfel, 211 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2000) (noting that erroneously rejected evidence may be ...