United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
AMOR J. BLACKTONGUE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER ON SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Amor J. Blacktongue, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), under Title II
and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This matter has
been fully briefed and, after reviewing the record in its
entirety, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision
and REMANDS the matter for an award of benefits under
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
March 31, 2011, Mr. Blacktongue filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and on July 13, 2011,
filed an application for Supplement Security Income (SSI).
Tr. 26, 132-43, 323-31. Both applications alleged disability
commencing on June 5, 2009. Id. Mr.
Blacktongue's applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Tr. 26. A hearing was held before
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Glenn G. Meyers on September
30, 2014. Tr. 415-51. Mr. Blacktongue was represented by
counsel, Steven Knaphus. Id. Maggie Dillon, a
vocational expert, also testified at the hearing.
Id. On October 23, 2014, Judge Meyers issued an
unfavorable decision. Tr. 26-40. On March 29, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied review, and the ALJ's decision
became final. Tr. 1-4. Mr. Blacktongue then timely filed this
to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 are 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.
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
Id. at 1076-77; see also Harman v. Apfel,
211 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2000) (noting that erroneously
rejected evidence may be credited when all three elements are
claimant, Mr. Blacktongue 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 medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted, or is
expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than 12
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, engage in any other
substantial gainful activity existing in the national
economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); see also
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir.
Commissioner has established a five step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the
burden of proof during steps one through four. At step five,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a
claimant is found to be disabled at any step in the sequence,
the inquiry ends without the need to consider subsequent
steps. Step one asks whether the claimant is presently
engaged in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is,
disability benefits are denied. If he is not, the
Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step two, the claimant
must establish that he has one or more medically severe
impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit his
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If
the claimant does not have such impairments, he is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If
the claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner
moves to step ...