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Henderson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

February 23, 2017

BYRON CRAIG HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          ROBERT S. LASNIK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Byron Craig Henderson appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), which 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 Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and REMANDED.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff is a 49-year-old man with a high-school education. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 194, 199. His past work experience was as a delivery person and warehouse worker. AR at 199. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in September of 2007. AR at 198.

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on June 14, 2010. AR at 548. Plaintiff asserted that he was disabled due to attention deficit disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and psychosis. AR at 198.

         The Commissioner denied plaintiffs claims initially and on reconsideration. AR at 548. After a hearing at which plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to March 2, 2009, ALJ Verrell Dethloff issued a decision finding plaintiff not to be disabled. AR at 19-37. After the Appeals Council declined review, plaintiff appealed that decision to this Court, which remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. AR at 686-702.

         Meanwhile, plaintiff filed subsequent applications for DIB and SSI on December 16, 2013. See AR at 549. Plaintiff received a favorable determination finding him to be disabled as of April 7, 2012. See id. The Appeals Council affirmed that determination. AR at 708-12.

         A new hearing regarding the original applications took place on December 3, 2015. AR at 615-44. On January 16, 2016, ALJ Virginia M. Robinson issued a decision finding that between March 2, 2009, and April 7, 2012, plaintiff was not disabled based on her finding that plaintiff could perform past work or could alternatively perform specific jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 548-61. It does not appear from the record that the Appeals Council assumed jurisdiction of the case. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984, 416.1484. On May 24, 2016, plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the Commissioner's decision. Dkt. No. 3.

         II. 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

         III. EVALUATING DISABILITY

         As the claimant, Mr. Henderson 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). 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 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. 1999).

         The 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.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).[2] 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 three to determine whether the impairment meets or equals any of the listed impairments described in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). A claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the listings for the required 12-month duration requirement is disabled. Id.

         When the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner evaluates the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work to determine whether he can still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the opposite is true, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, taking into consideration the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work ...


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