United States District Court, W.D. Washington
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER
P. DONOHUE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Allen Key appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) which denied his applications
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
Court ORDERS that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
time of the administrative hearing, plaintiff was a
fifty-three year old man with a high school education.
Administrative Record (“AR”) at 42, 44. His past
work experience includes employment as an Army mechanic and
as owner of a tow truck business, where he drove tow trucks,
repaired the tow trucks as well as towed vehicles, and
answered the phone. AR at 46-50. Plaintiff was last gainfully
employed in May 2005. AR at 49.
March 25, 2014, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for DIB, alleging an onset date of August 22, 2008. AR at 20.
Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled due to loss of balance,
loss of memory, nerve damage, brain injury, vertigo, severe
pain, insomnia, depression, stroke, ADD/ADHD, and TBI. AR at
255. His date last insured is December 31, 2013. AR at 20.
Commissioner denied plaintiffs claim initially and on
reconsideration. AR at 20. Plaintiff requested a hearing,
which took place on December 14, 2015. AR at 20. On May 12,
2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not
disabled and denied benefits based on her finding that the
plaintiff did not have a severe impairment. AR at 23.
Plaintiffs administrative appeal of the ALJ's decision
was denied by the Appeals Council, AR at 1, 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 3, 2017, plaintiff timely filed the
present action challenging the Commissioner's decision.
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. Key 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
12, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding the following:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on December 31, 2013.
2. The claimant did not engaged in substantial gainful
activity during the period from his alleged onset date of
August 22, 2008 through the date last insured of December 31,
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the
following medically determinable impairments: cerebrovascular
accident in 2005, lumbar degenerative disc disease, kidney
stones and acid reflux, cognitive disorder, tinnitus,
dementia, generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder
with depression and anxiety, ADHD, learning disorder, chronic
balance disorder, pain disorder, obstructive sleep
apnea/insomnia, blindness in right eye since birth, GERD,
Barrett esophagus, and hiatal hernia.
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that
significantly limited the ability to perform basic
work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore,
the claimant did not have a severe impairment or combination
5. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, at any time from August 22, 2008, the
alleged onset date, through December ...