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Janis Stephenson v. Michael J. Astrue

July 12, 2011

JANIS STEPHENSON, 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 December 9, 2010, plaintiff Janis Stephenson ("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*fn1 Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15; December 13, 2010 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 Opinion and Order of Remand.

II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

On October 26, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 74). Plaintiff asserted that she became disabled on June 1, 1999, due to ankles, back, obesity and anxiety. (AR 74, 136). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert on September 10, 2007. (AR 23). On September 19, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 74-81).

On November 30, 2007, the Appeals Council granted review, vacated the ALJ's September 19, 2007 decision, and remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. (AR 112-15). The ALJ again examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel), two medical experts and a vocational expert on August 5, 2008. (AR 41-68).

On September 11, 2008, the ALJ again determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 10-20). Specifically, the ALJ*fn2 found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, asthma, affective mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and somatoform disorder secondary to psychological reaction to physical conditions (AR 12);

(2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments (AR 12-14); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work (20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a)) with several additional exertional and non-exertional limitations*fn3 (AR 14); (4) plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work (AR 18); (5) there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, specifically information clerk, general office clerk, and order clerk (AR 19); and (6) plaintiff's allegations regarding her limitations were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment (AR 17).

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's second application for review. (AR 1-4).

III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Sequential Evaluation Process

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that the claimant 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. ยง 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work claimant previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial ...


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