The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR B. Kenton United States Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Social Security Case)
This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the Administrative Record ("AR") before the Commissioner. The parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified AR.
Plaintiff raises the following issues:
1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in failing to apply Grid Rule 202.09; and
2. Whether the ALJ provided specific and legitimate reasons to reject the reaching limitations assessed by the treating physicians.
This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that for the reasons set forth, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed.
I THE ALJ DID NOT ERR IN FAILING TO APPLY THE GRID RULES
Following a hearing before the ALJ, held on October 26, 2009, at which Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and assisted by an interpreter, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified (AR 21-42), an unfavorable decision was issued. (AR 11-20.) As pertinent to the first issue, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work ("PRW") as a housekeeper, thus completing the analytical framework at Step Four of the sequential evaluation process. (20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a).) Plaintiff asserts, however, that the ALJ should have applied the so-called "Grid Rules" found at 20 C.F.R., Part 404, subpart P, appendix 2, and in particular, Grid Rule 202.09, which would result in a finding of "disabled."
Once Plaintiff has established that she is unable to return to her PRW (or that she has no PRW), the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the existence of other jobs which exist in significant numbers which Plaintiff can perform considering her age, education, residual functional capacity, and vocational profile. The Commissioner can meet this burden either by utilizing the Medical Vocational guidelines ("Grids") in Appendix 2, Subpart P, 20 C.F.R. Part 404 or by calling upon the services of a vocational expert. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1101 (9th Cir. 1999).
Plaintiff does not contest the Commissioner's legal contention that the Grid Rules are inapplicable if a finding of non-disability is made at Step Four. Instead, and primarily in her Reply, Plaintiff would appear to argue that the job of "housekeeper" was not part of Plaintiff's PRW, because she performed it only part of the year 1999. (JS at 10.) This argument is not developed anywhere in the brief, however, and thus it is relevant to clarify the definition of PRW, in order to determine whether, indeed, Plaintiff's PRW included work as a housekeeper.
20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(e), (f) identifies the expression "past relevant work" as an operative concept at the fourth step of the sequential evaluation process. The definition of PRW is set forth in §404.1560(b)(1), as, "... work that you have done within the past 15 years, ..." Further assistance is provided in Social Security Rulings ("SSR") 82-61 and 82-62. While Social Security Rulings do not carry the force and effect of law, they are relevant to construe the Social Security Administration's interpretation of its own regulations and the statutes which it is empowered to administer. Under SSR 82-61, three possible alternative tests are set forth for determining whether or not a claimant retains the capacity to perform his or her PRW. The first is ...