United States District Court, W.D. Washington
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
S. Lasnik United States District Judge
Randy James Granger appeals the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”), which 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
Commissioner's decision is hereby REVERSED and REMANDED.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 54-year-old man with a tenth-grade education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 159, 164. His
past work experience was as a truck driver. AR at 164.
Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in September of 2012.
AR at 163.
protectively filed an application for DIB on April 24, 2013.
AR at 19. Plaintiff asserted that he was disabled due to
bipolar disorder, depression, and diabetes. AR at 163.
Commissioner denied plaintiffs claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 19. Plaintiff requested a hearing,
which took place on April 15, 2015. Id On April 17,
2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was
not disabled based on his finding that plaintiff could
perform specific jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. AR at 19-29. Plaintiffs request for review
by the Appeals Council was denied on August 30, 2016 (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 October 27, 2016, plaintiff
timely filed the present action challenging the
Commissioner's decision. Dkt. No. 1.
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 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
claimant, Mr. Granger 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). 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).
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. 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). 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). 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). A
claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the listings
for the required 12-month duration requirement is disabled.
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). 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). 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 experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g);
Tackett 180 F.3d at 1099, 1100. If the Commissioner
finds the claimant is unable to perform other work, then the
claimant is found disabled and benefits may be awarded.
April 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding the
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 28, 2012, the alleged onset date (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: bipolar
disorder and anxiety (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. He can
perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks. He should not
have public contact. He can have occasional coworker contact.
He can perform work that does not ...