United States District Court, W.D. Washington
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
P. DONOHUE Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
Tommy Rodgers 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 Court ORDERS that the Commissioner's decision
be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time of the administrative hearing, plaintiff was a forty-one
year old man with a tenth grade education. Administrative
Record (“AR”) at 45. Plaintiff did not obtain his
GED, and asserts that he was enrolled in special education
classes throughout school. AR at 45, 515-16. His past work
experience includes part-time employment as a retail stocker,
gas station cashier, and fast food worker. AR at 46-48, 64,
227, 233. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in December
2012. AR at 48.
August 9, 2013, plaintiff filed applications for SSI payments
and DIB, alleging a disability onset date of September 30,
2012. AR at 19, 42. Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled due
to a brain injury following a clipped aneurysm. Specifically,
plaintiff sustained a head injury in a motor vehicle accident
in September 2013, and then developed an unruptured brain
aneurysm, for which he underwent surgery in January 2014. AR
at 318, 378-80, 387, 392-93, 399. Plaintiff claims that he
has been unable to work since the surgery. Plaintiff reports
that his symptoms include depression, memory loss, dizziness,
fatigue, angry outbursts, and migraines. AR at 41, 49-52.
Commissioner denied plaintiffs claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 19. Plaintiff requested a hearing,
which took place on November 19, 2015. AR at 37-75. On
February 1, 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 16-31.
Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision 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 June 22, 2017, plaintiff timely filed the present
action challenging the Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 4.
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, Mr. Rodgers 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 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 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, 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 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 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 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 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 1, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 30, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 3, 2013, the amended ...