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Melissa I. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

July 11, 2019

MELISSA I., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING

          Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge.

         Melissa I. has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons below, the undersigned reverses defendant's decision to deny benefits and remands for an award of benefits.

         I. ISSUE FOR REVEW

         Did the ALJ err in discounting plaintiff's testimony about her symptoms?

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging that she became disabled beginning October 10, 2009. Administrative Record (AR) 11, 541. The end of the relevant period is her date-last-insured, March 31, 2012. AR 543; see Macri v. Chater, 93 F.3d 540, 543 (9th Cir. 1996) (claimant must prove she became disabled before expiration of disability insured status).

         This is plaintiff's third appeal to this Court based on the Social Security Administration's rejections of her application. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on initial administrative review, on reconsideration, and after a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). AR 11-19. On review, this Court found the ALJ erred in considering plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony and remanded for further proceedings. AR 328-32 (February 2016 order remanding). On remand, an ALJ found in another written decision that plaintiff was not disabled. AR 252-61. On review of that decision, this Court again found that the ALJ had erred in rejecting plaintiff's testimony. AR 624-28 (March 2017 order remanding).

         On remand a second time, the ALJ held another hearing, and plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. AR 560-606. In a written decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff's bipolar disorder is a severe impairment. AR 543. The ALJ concluded that during the relevant period, plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore that she was not disabled. AR 552-53.

         Plaintiff again appealed to this Court. Dkt. 1, Dkt. 8.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision unless: (1) the decision is based on legal error; or (2) the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “‘more than a mere scintilla, '” though “‘less than a preponderance'” of the evidence. Id. (quoting Desrosiers, 846 F.2d at 576).

         The Court must consider the administrative record as a whole. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). The Court is required to weigh both the evidence that supports, and evidence that does not support, the ALJ's conclusion. Id. The Court may not affirm the decision of the ALJ for a reason upon which the ALJ did not rely. Id.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled, and at step four assesses a claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine whether a claimant can perform past relevant work. If the claimant cannot perform past work, the Commissioner then uses the RFC to determine at step five whether the claimant can adjust to other work. Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir. 2013). The Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999). The Commissioner can ...


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