The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS PROCEEDINGS
On September 15, 2009, Ginny Burns ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Social Security income ("SSI") benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on April 6, 2010. On June 15, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS").
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the Magistrate Judge. The matter is now ready for decision. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accordance with law and with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
Plaintiff is a 33 year old female who was determined to have the medically determinable severe impairment of mood disorder. (AR 11.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 9, 2007, the application date. (AR 11.)
Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration on May 12, 2008. (AR 9.) She filed a timely request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joseph Schloss on March 16, 2009, in San Bernardino, California. (AR 9.) Claimant appeared and testified. (AR 9.) So did vocational expert Corinne Porter. (AR 9.)
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 2, 2009. (AR 9-16.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertion limitation: the Claimant can perform short, repetitive tasks. (AR 12.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that Claimant could perform her prior relevant work as a janitor and, therefore, was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 15-16.)
As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the sole disputed issue that Plaintiff is raising as a ground for reversal is as follows:
1. Whether the ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") limitation to simple, repetitive work was consistent with a Reasoning Level 3 job.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotations and citations omitted). This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).
The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
The first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantial gainful activity. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the claimant is engaging in substantially gainful activity, disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed, in Appendix I of the regulations. Id. If the impediment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is presumptively disabled. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141. Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work (PRW). Pinto v. Massanari, 249 F.3d 840, 844-45 (9th Cir. 2001). Before making the step four determination, the ALJ first must determine the claimant's RFC.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The RFC must consider all of the claimant's impairments, including those that are not severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(2); Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-8p. If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth step and must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing any other substantial gainful activity. Moore v. Apfel, 216 F.3d 864, 869 (9th Cir. 2000).
The claimant bears the burden of proving steps one through four, consistent with the general rule that at all times the burden is on the claimant to establish his or her entitlement to benefits. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. Once this prima facie case is established by the claimant, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant may perform other gainful activity. Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006). If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled and entitled to benefits. Id.
In this case, the ALJ concluded at step four of the sequential process that Plaintiff can perform her prior relevant work as a janitor as actually and generally performed and therefore is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 15-16.)
The ALJ failed to develop the record adequately regarding Claimant's PRW and in not resolving obvious ambiguities that make meaningful review of the ALJ's decision impossible. The ALJ also failed to make appropriate findings regarding Claimant's past relevant work as a janitor as both actually and generally performed. The ALJ's short, two paragraph discussion of PRW is conclusory and unsupported by factual findings grounded in substantial evidence. The ALJ's PRW determinations cannot stand.
A. Medical And Procedural Background
Plaintiff alleged "mental impairment, bipolar, paranoia, schizophrenia, personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder." (AR 13, 103.) She claims that she paces, gets agitated with employers, believes ...