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Judy Tate v. Michael J. Astrue

September 18, 2012

JUDY TATE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marc L. Goldman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Judy Tate seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

Plaintiff was born on February 11, 1955, and was 53 years old at the time she filed her application for benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 100, 132.) She completed two years of college and has relevant work experience in various positions in a senior citizen's community, as well as positions as a limousine driver, hotel front desk clerk and retail sales clerk. (AR at 138, 141.) Plaintiff filed her benefits application on February 25, 2008, alleging disability beginning March 15, 2005, due to carpal tunnel syndrome and impairments of the neck, low back, shoulder and bilateral knee. (AR at 33, 137.)

Plaintiff's application was denied initially on April 23, 2008, and upon reconsideration on June 25, 2008. (AR at 102-105, 107-111.) An administrative hearing was held on August 25, 2009, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mary Everstine. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified, as did a Vocational Expert ("VE"). (AR at 81-99.)

On October 8, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (AR at 28-37.) She found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the disability onset date. (AR at 33.) The ALJ further found that the medical evidence established that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, disc bulging and spondyloarthritic changes, cervical spine; degenerative changes, bilateral knees; and mild carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id.)

However, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet, or were not medically equal to, one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 35.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to "perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except further limited to only: occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; occasional above the shoulder reaching; and no power gripping or grasping." (Id.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as an activities director. (AR at 36.) Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). (Id.)

On June 17, 2011, the Appeals Council denied review. However, on February 28, 2012, the Appeals Council set aside its earlier decision but again denied review. (AR at 1-4.) Plaintiff then timely commenced this action for judicial review. On September 10, 2012, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") of disputed facts and issues. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly evaluating Plaintiff's RFC and her ability to perform her past relevant work at step 4 of the sequential process; (2) improperly rejecting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician; (3) failing to properly determine at step 3 whether Plaintiff's impairments met or equaled a listed impairment; and (4) failing to perform a proper credibility analysis. (Joint Stip. at 4.) Plaintiff seeks reversal of the Commissioner's denial of her applications and payment of benefits or, in the alternative, remand for a new administrative hearing. (Joint Stip. at 52.)

The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed.

(Joint Stip. at 52-53.)

After reviewing the parties' respective contentions and the record as a whole, the Court finds Plaintiff's contention regarding the ALJ's failure to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility to be meritorious and remands this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.*fn1

II. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's or ALJ's decision must be upheld unless "the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1990); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ...


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