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Kristen L. Dezwart v. Michael J. Astrue

January 7, 2013

KRISTEN L. DEZWART, 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 August 28, 2012, plaintiff Kristen L. Dezwart ("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 Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15; August 30, 2012 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 March 20, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 20, 145). Plaintiff asserted that she became disabled on January 28, 2000, due to a back injury. (AR 183). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel) and a vocational expert on July 30, 2010. (AR 62-91).

On August 20, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through March 31, 2005 (i.e., plaintiff's "date last insured"). (AR 20-29). Specifically, the ALJ found that through the date last insured: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairment: lumbar spine disc disease, status post posterior fusion in July 2004 (AR 22); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 24); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work (20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)) with additional limitations (AR*fn1 24); (4) plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work (AR 28); (5) there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, specifically Cashier II and Order Clerk (AR 28-29); 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 25).

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

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 any 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 not less than 12 months." Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work claimant 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)).

In assessing whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is to follow a five-step sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. ...


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