United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
S. LASNIK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Mariana Michele Jakobsen appeals the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83f. For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
REVERSED and REMANDED.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 51-year-old woman with a tenth-grade education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 408. Her past
work experience was as a sorter/pricer, sales clerk, manager
of a retail store, child care monitor, and livestock rancher.
AR 216, 96.
filed an application for supplemental security income on May
22, 2012, alleging disability as of July 1, 2011. AR 206. She
asserted that she was disabled due to a combination of
physical and mental impairments, including lumbar spine
impairment, bursitis in the hip and knee, carpal tunnel
syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic migraines, bipolar II
disorder, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. AR 172,
Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR 171, 186. Plaintiff requested a hearing,
which took place on June 25, 2013. AR 47-102. On July 26,
2013, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Glenn
Meyers issued a decision finding that the plaintiff was not
disabled because she could perform specific jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. AR 203-218.
filed a request for review with the Appeals Council. The
Appeals Council issued an order vacating the ALJ's
decision and remanding the case for further proceedings. AR
224-27. In substance, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to
(a) give further consideration to plaintiff's diagnoses
of bipolar disorder II, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and
somatic dysfunction disorder, (b) further evaluate the
opinion of Ellen Walker, Ph.D., that the plaintiff's
diagnoses include undifferentiated somatoform disorder, major
depressive disorder, recurrent severe panic disorder with
agoraphobia, and (c) address a discrepancy between the
ALJ's findings regarding residual functional capacity and
the vocational evidence presented during the hearing. AR
Meyers held a second hearing, AR 103-170, and issued an
unfavorable decision on June 23, 2015, AR 27-40. The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review, AR 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). Plaintiff timely filed the present action
challenging the Commissioner's decision. Dkt. No. 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, the Court must uphold the
Commissioner's conclusion. Id.
claimant, Ms. Jakobsen, 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). 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(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). 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) (“the Listings”). A
claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the Listings
for the required twelve-month duration 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), 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
23, 2015, ALJ Meyers issued a decision finding, in relevant
part, the following:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 22, 2012, the application date (20 C.F.R.
§ 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
fibromyalgia; migraines; depressive disorder; somatoform
disorder; anxiety disorder; panic disorder; personality
disorder (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(a) including the following limitations. She can
perform unskilled, repetitive, routine work. She cannot have
contact with the public. She is capable of working in
proximity to but not in coordination with co-workers. She can
have occasional contact with supervisors. She will be
off-task at work up to 10% of the time, but still meet the
minimum production requirements of the job. She will be
absent from work one time per month.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 C.F.R. § 416.965).
6. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. § 416.969 and
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since May 22, 2012, the date the
application was ...