United States District Court, W.D. Washington
P. DONOHUE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Maria Ruiz appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that denied her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-83f, after a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the
Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS
this matter for further administrative proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
is a 50-year-old woman with a 10th-grade education and some
vocational training, plus training as a licensed practical
nurse. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 51-52,
72-73. Her past work experience includes employment as a
sales associate. AR at 298. Plaintiff was last gainfully
employed in 2013. AR at 281.
October 2013, Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI,
alleging an onset date of December 1, 2004. AR at 236-41.
Plaintiff asserts that she is disabled due to depression,
anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
and a back injury. AR at 297.
Commissioner denied Plaintiffs claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 152-60, 168-74. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place on February 10, 2016. AR at 43-78.
On June 1, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled and denied benefits based on her finding that
Plaintiff could perform a specific job existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 22-36.
Plaintiffs administrative appeal of the ALJ's decision
was denied by the Appeals Council, AR at 8-13, making the
ALJ's ruling the “final decision” of the
Commissioner as that term is defined by 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). On September 21, 2017, Plaintiff timely filed the
present action challenging the Commissioner's decision.
Dkt. 1, 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.
claimant, Ms. Ruiz 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
1, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding the following:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 14, 2013, the alleged onset date.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
hemorrhoids, cervical spine disorder, depressive disorder,
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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
4. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she
can lift and or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; she can stand and or walk with normal breaks 6
hours in an 8-hour workday; sit with normal breaks for 6
hours in an 8-hour workday; occasionally climb ramps and
stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibration, and
hazardous machinery and heights; and perform simple
repetitive tasks. She can have limited ...