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Fowler v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 20, 2013

ZIPPORAH ABIGAIL FOWLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND

JACQUELINE CHOOLJIAN, Magistrate Judge.

I. SUMMARY

On August 14, 2013, plaintiff Zipporah Abigail Fowler ("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 the undersigned 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 28, 2013 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 October 23, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 224). Plaintiff asserted that she became disabled on August 1, 2007, due to numbness in feet and hands, and anxiety. (AR 243). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel) and a vocational expert on August 20, 2009. (AR 73-95). On December 8, 2009, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 101-07).

On June 17, 2011, the Appeals Council granted review, vacated the ALJ's December 8, 2009 decision, and remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. (AR 21, 114-15). The Appeals Council also determined that a second application for benefits that plaintiff submitted on January 14, 2010 was duplicative, and ordered the ALJ to associate both of plaintiff's claim files and to issue a new decision on the associated claims. (AR 21, 115).

On October 27, 2011, the ALJ again examined the medical record and also heard testimony from plaintiff (who appeared with a non-attorney representative), a psychological expert and a vocational expert. (AR 35-66).

On December 21, 2011, the ALJ again determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 21-29). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: from October 23, 2008 through September 30, 2010, schizophrenia, depressive disorder (not otherwise specified), obesity, paresthesia, and low back pain, and beginning in October 2010, complaint of right knee problems (AR 23); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 23-24); (3) for the period from October 23, 2008 through September 30, 2010, plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work (20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b)) with certain exertional and nonexertional limitations, and beginning on October 1, 2010 plaintiff had an additional limitation related to her right knee problems[1] (AR 24); (4) plaintiff had no past relevant work (AR 28); (5) there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, specifically small products assembler, electronics worker, and addresser (AR 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 second 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 ...


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