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Tom Soukanh Pheng v. Commissioner of Social Security

April 13, 2013

TOM SOUKANH PHENG,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER REMANDING THE ACTION PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF TOM SOUKANH PHENG AND AGAINST DEFENDANT COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

Tom Soukanh Pheng ("Plaintiff") asserts he is entitled to disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff argues the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred in evaluating the evidence, and seeks review of the decision denying his claims for benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the administrative decision is REMANDED.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 6, 2008, alleging disability beginning September 16, 2008. (Doc. 11-6 at 2). The Administration denied his claims initially on December 3, 2008, and upon reconsideration on March 10, 2009. (Doc. 11-2 at 1). After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff testified before an ALJ on November 15, 2010. (Doc. 11-3 at 49).

The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act, and issued an order denying benefits on January 6, 2011. (Doc. 11-3 at 11-18). Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council of Social Security, which declined to review the ALJ's decision on February 24, 2 2012. Id. at 2-4. Therefore, the ALJ's determination became the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). 4

On April 13, 2012, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing his complaint for judicial review of 5 the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed his opening brief on November 14, 2012, 6 asserting the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of his treating physician and in assessing the 7 credibility of his subjective complaints. (Doc. 13). Defendant filed a brief in opposition on January 8 11, 2013 (Doc. 16), to which Plaintiff filed a reply on February 22, 2013 (Doc. 20). 9

STANDARD OF REVIEW

District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ's determination that the claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the proper legal standards were applied and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as a whole must be considered, because "[t]he court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).

DISABILITY BENEFITS

To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish he is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:

his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The burden of proof is on a claimant to establish disability. Terry v. 6 Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). When a claimant establishes a prima facie case of 7 disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is able to engage in other 8 substantial gainful employment. Maounis v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984). 9

DETERMINATION OF DISABILITY

To achieve uniform decisions, the Commissioner established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The process requires the ALJ to determine whether Plaintiff (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability, (2) had medically determinable severe impairments (3) that met or equaled one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether Plaintiff (4) had the residual functional capacity to perform to past relevant work or (5) the ability to perform other work existing in significant numbers at ...


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