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Brittany Morrison v. Michael J. Astrue

November 30, 2011

BRITTANY MORRISON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

PROCEEDINGS

On June 24, 2010, Brittany Morrison ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on January 14, 2011. On September 13, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before this Magistrate Judge. 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 this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 24 year old female who received Supplemental Security Income benefits as a child based on disability for mental retardation. (AR 13, 273.) At age 18, a redetermination hearing was conducted before a Disability Hearing Officer by the Social Security Administration to determine if the Plaintiff was disabled under the definition for adults. (AR 13.) The Social Security Administration determined that Plaintiff no longer qualified for Supplemental Security Income benefits as of April 1, 2006. (AR 13.) Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing, which was held on August 22, 2007, in West Los Angeles, California, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Sally C. Reason. (AR 382-406.) Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing. (AR 13, 387-91.) The Claimant's mother, Tangela Morrison, appeared and testified. (AR 13.) The Claimant's father, Henry Morrison, also appeared and testified. (AR 13, 391-98.) Vocational expert ("VE") Ronald K. Hatakeyama appeared and testified. (AR 13.) Claimant was represented by counsel. (AR 13.)

The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on February 6, 2008. (AR 13-21.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 15, 2010. (AR 5-7.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the following disputed issues as grounds for reversal and remand:

1. Whether the ALJ properly assessed the credibility of Mr. Henry Lee Morrison, Jr., a lay witness.

2. Whether the ALJ properly assessed the credibility of Ms. Tangela Morrison, a lay witness.

3. Whether the ALJ erred in determining Plaintiff's credibility.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).

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 citation 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).

SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

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 substantial gainful activity, disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). This step, ...


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