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Galvan v. Astrue

February 26, 2010

JODEY GALVAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jodey Galvan ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to reverse the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Agency is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 6, 2004, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB benefits claiming that she became disabled on December 19, 2003. (Administrative Record ("AR") 156-58). The Agency denied her application and she submitted a request for reconsideration on September 14, 2004. (AR 95). The Agency denied her application again on January 5, 2005. (AR 98-102). Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Keith F. Varni on April 14, 2006. (AR 45-66). Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (AR 47-65).

On September 15, 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 38-44). Plaintiff sought review before the Appeals Council, which vacated the decision on June 8, 2007 and remanded the matter for a new hearing. (AR 127-31). The Appeals Council determined that the ALJ had failed to adequately evaluate the medical opinion evidence, failed to adequately consider the Plaintiff's obesity, and failed to adequately consider lay testimony. (AR 129-30).

On January 23, 2008, the ALJ held a remand hearing. (AR 67-87). Plaintiff was again represented by counsel and testified. (AR 69-81). Joseph Mooney, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (AR 81-84). On March 10, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision again denying benefits. (AR 19-32). Plaintiff sought review before the Appeals council, which denied her request on March 18, 2009. (AR 8-11). Plaintiff filed the instant action on July 10, 2009. Pursuant to the Court's Case Management Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Jt. Stip.") on December 30, 2009.

THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents him from engaging in substantial gainful activity*fn1 and that is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work he previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).

To decide if a claimant is entitled to benefits, an ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The steps are:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.

(2) Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, the claimant is found not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.

(3) Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal the requirements of any impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is found disabled. If not, proceed to step four.

(4) Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.

(5) Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not, the claimant is found disabled. If so, the claimant is found not disabled.

Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-99; see also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b)-(g)(1).

The claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through four, and the Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54. If, at step four, the claimant meets his burden of establishing an inability to perform the past work, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform some other work that exists in "significant numbers" in the national economy, taking into account the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn2, age, education and work experience. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100; 20 C.F.R. ยง 416.920(g)(1). The Commissioner may do so by the testimony of a ...


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