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Rosa E. Trujillo v. Michael J. Astrue

November 22, 2011

ROSA E. TRUJILLO,
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

Rosa E. Trujillo ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (hereinafter the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Alternatively, she asks for a remand. 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 Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff initially requested benefits on May 16, 2005, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 2000 due to injuries to her back, neck, and discs; tendonitis in both hands and arms; glaucoma; and blindness in right eye. (AR 100). After the Agency denied benefits, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on February 22, 2007. (AR 608-10). Plaintiff was not represented by counsel at the hearing. (AR 610-11). On March 7, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 16-29). Plaintiff's request for appeal was denied by the Appeals Council on May 25, 2007, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for the Agency. (AR 9).

Subsequently, Plaintiff filed action in federal court, and, following a Stipulation for Remand, the Court remanded the action. (AR 653-57). On May 9, 2009, the ALJ conducted a second hearing where Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (AR 728-45). Again, the ALJ issued an opinion denying benefits on June 26, 2009. (AR 634-46). On October 30, 2010, the Appeals Council declined jurisdiction, making the ALJ's most recent opinion the final decision of the Agency. (AR 627). Plaintiff then filed this second action in federal court.

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*fn1 result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). 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. 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. §§ 404.1520, 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 one of list of specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,

Substantial gainful activity means work that involves doing

Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is found disabled. If not, ...


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