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Teresa K. Palmer v. Michael J. Astrue

August 30, 2012

TERESA K. PALMER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge

ORDER (1) ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION; (2) GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND (3) DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF Nos. 14, 15, 18)

Presently before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment by Plaintiff Teresa Palmer and Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. (Pl.'s MSJ, ECF No. 14; Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 15.) Also before the Court is a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") from Magistrate Judge Major advising the Court to grant in part Plaintiff's motion and to deny Defendant's motion. (R&R, EFC No. 18.) Defendant has filed objections to the R&R (Objs., ECF No. 19) and Plaintiff has replied to those objections (Reply, ECF No. 20). Having carefully considered the parties' filings, the R&R, and the applicable law, the Court ADOPTS Magistrate Judge Major's Recommendation and Report, GRANTS IN PART Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, DENIES Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment, and REMANDS this matter for further administrative proceedings.

BACKGROUND

The Court finds that the background facts contained in the R&R are both accurate and complete. Further, Defendant has not objected to this aspect of the R&R. Therefore, the Court incorporates the R&R's "Procedural History" section by reference here. (R&R at 2.)

LEGAL STANDARDS

1. Review of the Report and Recommendation

Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) set forth the duties of the district court in connection with a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. "The district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made," and "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the finding or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also United States v. Remsing, 874 F.2d 614, 617 (9th Cir. 1989); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980). However, the Court has no obligation to review a legal conclusions to which neither party objects. Schmidt v. Johnstone, 263 F. Supp. 2d 1219, 1226 (D. Ariz. 2003); see also United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc).

2. Review of a Denial of Disability Claim

When an applicant's claim for disability benefits under the Social Security Act has been denied, she may seek judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The reviewing Court will reverse the Commissioner's decision only if "it is based upon legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion" and is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971)); Tidwell, 161 F.3d at 601 (citing Jamerson v. Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1997)). This inquiry looks to the record as a whole. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). However, if the evidence supports more than one interpretation, the Court must uphold the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). "Where, as here, the Appeals Council denies a request for review of an ALJ's decision, the decision of the ALJ represents the final decision of the Commissioner." Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 n.1 (9th Cir 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.981).

In order to qualify for disability benefits, an applicant must show that she is "disabled," meaning (1) that she suffers from a medically determinable impairment that can be expected to last for a continuous period of twelve months or more, or would result in death, and (2) the impairment renders applicant incapable of performing the work she previously performed or any other substantially gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), (2)(A). To evaluate the applicant's claim, an ALJ must apply a five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

In step one, the ALJ determines whether a claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two and evaluates whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. If not, the claimant is not disabled. If so, the ALJ proceeds to step three and considers whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals a listed impairment under 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. If so, the claimant is automatically presumed disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four and assesses whether the claimant is capable of performing her past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step five and examines whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform any other substantial gainful activity in the national economy. If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.

Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). A claimant bears the burden of proof with respect to the first four steps, but for the fifth step the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. (citing Swenson v. Sullivan, 876 F.2d 683, 687 (9th Cir. 1989)).

ANALYSIS

1. Summary of R&R's ...


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