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Baker v. Astrue

November 10, 2010

SHARON L. BAKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Jacqueline Chooljian United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND

I. SUMMARY

On October 8, 2009, plaintiff Sharon L. Baker ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, respectively ("Plaintiff's Motion") and ("Defendant's Motion"). The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15; October 15, 2009 Case Management Order ¶ 5.

Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED AND REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum and Opinion and Order of Remand.

II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION On June 18, 2003, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security

Income benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 55-56). Plaintiff asserted that she became disabled on December 29, 2001, due to asthma and herniated disks in her neck and lower back. (AR 60). After holding a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (the "Prior ALJ") issued an unfavorable decision on July 16, 2005. (AR 10-16). Following remand orders from this Court and the Appeals Council (AR 448-49, 450-75), a different Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, on August 4, 2008, and February 4, 2009. (AR 336-67, 368-95).*fn1

On June 9, 2009, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision ("Post-Remand Decision"). (AR 320-31). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: disorders of the cervical spine, lumbar spine, and right hand; degenerative disc disease of the knees, bilaterally; asthma; and headaches (AR 322); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments (AR 323); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work (AR 323) ; and*fn2 (4) plaintiff could perform her past relevant work (AR 330-31). The Appeals Council did not review the ALJ's decision, and the Post-Remand Decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484(d).

III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Sequential Evaluation Process

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work she 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)). In assessing whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is to follow a five-step sequential evaluation process:

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

(2) Is the claimant's alleged impairment sufficiently severe to limit her ability to work? If not, the claimant is not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.

(3) Does the claimant's impairment, or combination of impairments, meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the ...


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