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Burnett v. Astrue

September 29, 2010

JEROME BURNETT, 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

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jerome Burnett ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to reverse the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). 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.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 5, 2003, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI claiming that he became disabled on July 15, 2000. (Administrative Record ("AR") 75). On January 9, 2004, the Agency denied his application. (AR 39). On February 9, 2004, Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, (AR 43), which was denied on May 13, 2004. (AR 44). Plaintiff then requested a hearing, (AR 50), which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") F. Keith Varni on July 15, 2005. (AR 386-91). On September 15, 2005, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 13-18). Plaintiff sought review before the Appeals Council, (AR 8-9), which denied the request on December 1, 2006. (AR 5-7).

Plaintiff initially sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision in Burnett v. Astrue, Case No. EDCV 07-00057-JTL. On January 24, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Complaint challenging the Commissioner's denial of benefits. However, on July 13, 2007, the parties filed a Stipulation to Voluntary Remand. On July 16, 2007, the Magistrate Judge granted the parties' stipulation to voluntarily remand the action. (AR 409).

On February 16, 2008, the Appeals Council remanded the action to the ALJ for a new hearing consistent with the parties' stipulation. (AR 412-14). On November 17, 2008, the ALJ held a new hearing at which Plaintiff was present with counsel and testified. (AR 738-62). Vocational Expert ("VE") Joseph Mooney was also present and testified. (AR 763-64). On October 20, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 392-407). Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on February 4, 2010.

III. 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 and that is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. See Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).*fn1 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. See 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 ...


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