United States District Court, W.D. Washington
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
P. DONOHUE, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tamera Ann Markewicz appeals the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) which denied her 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 REVERSED and
REMANDED for further administrative proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time of the administrative hearing, plaintiff was a
forty-year old woman with a ninth grade education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 42. Plaintiff was
in special education classes in school, and was unable to
obtain her GED. AR at 270, 766. Her past work experience
includes employment as a cleaner, caregiver, cashier,
bartender, and seasonal staff in a shelter, among other
things. AR at 270, 278. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed
at an emergency cold weather shelter in April 2013. AR at 43,
February 13, 2014, plaintiff filed claims for DIB and SSI
payments alleging a disability onset date of April 30, 2013.
AR at 233-38. Plaintiff asserts that she is disabled due to
spina bifida, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”), post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), hypertension, and depression. AR at
Commissioner denied plaintiffs claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 101-130. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place on October 13, 2015. AR at 38-100.
On February 11, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding
plaintiff not disabled and denied benefits based on his
finding that plaintiff could perform a specific job existing
in significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 20-32.
Plaintiffs request for review was denied by the Appeals
Council, AR at 1-7, making the ALJ's ruling the
“final decision” of the Commissioner as that term
is defined by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On May 9, 2017,
plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the
Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 3.
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 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, Ms. Markewicz bears the burden of proving that she
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 her impairments are of such
severity that she is unable to do her previous work, and
cannot, considering her 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, 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). If she is,
disability benefits are denied. If she is not, the
Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step two, the claimant
must establish that she has one or more medically severe
impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit her
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If
the claimant does not have such impairments, she 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 twelve-month duration requirement
is disabled. Id.
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 she
can still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform
her past relevant work, she 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),
416.920(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
February 11, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision ...