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Crow v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 10, 2014

ROBIN R. CROW, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ALICIA G. ROSENBERG, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Robin R. Crow filed this action on December 4, 2012. (Dkt. No. 3.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on December 11, 2012 and January 7, 2013. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 11.) On July 15, 2013, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands this matter for proceedings consistent with this opinion for the period beginning February 20, 2011.

I.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On February 19, 2008, Crow filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging an onset date of April 21, 2007. Administrative Record ("AR") 21, 134, 257-68. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 134, 129-30. Crow requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 150. On March 26, 2009, Crow appeared at the hearing without an attorney or representative. AR 126. The ALJ continued the hearing to give Crow an opportunity to hire an attorney or representative. Id. On July 23, 2009, Crow appeared with an attorney, and the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Crow and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 106-23. On August 11, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 134-39.

On January 21, 2011, the Appeals Counsel granted Crow's request for review of the decision, vacated the decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings. AR 141. On remand, the ALJ was to: (1) obtain additional evidence concerning Crow's impairments; (2) give further consideration to the treating and nontreating source opinions, and explain the weight given to such opinion evidence; (3) further evaluate Crow's mental impairments; (4) evaluate Crow's obesity; (5) evaluate other source opinion; and (6) if warranted, obtain supplemental evidence from a VE to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on Crow's occupational base. AR 142-43. On August 2, 2011, a different ALJ conducted the hearing on remand at which Crow, a medical expert ("ME"), and a VE testified. AR 42-105. Additional medical evidence was admitted and made part of the record. AR 45, 580-713. On September 22, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 18-36. On October 5, 2012, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-5. This action followed.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this court reviews the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence, or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

"Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance - it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523. In determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III.

DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such benefits, "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." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S.Ct. 376, 157 L.Ed.2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ's findings are divided into the time periods before and after a February 20, 2011 motor vehicle accident. The ALJ found that Crow met the insured status requirements through June 30, 2012. AR 23.

The ALJ found that, from April 21, 2007 through February 19, 2011, Crow had the following severe impairments: obesity, borderline intellectual functioning, and major depressive disorder. AR 24. She had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of medium work. AR 26. She could exert 20 to 50 pounds of force occasionally, 10 to 20 pounds of force frequently, and up to 10 pounds of force constantly to move objects. She could sit, stand and walk up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. She could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; could not balance; and could not be exposed to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, or other high risk, hazardous or unsafe conditions. Crow was limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a low stress work environment (defined as work requiring no more than occasional changes in work setting, and not requiring unusual, very fast pace or production rate requirements) that did not require more than occasional interaction with the public or coworkers. Id. Crow was unable to perform any past relevant work, but she could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, such as surveillance system monitor; cleaner, industrial/janitorial; and cleaner, housekeeping. AR 29-30.

During the period beginning February 20, 2011, Crow has the following severe impairments: obesity; borderline intellectual functioning; major depressive disorder; a tibia/fibular fracture; dislocated left talus; and internally deranged right wrist. AR 31. Crow has the RFC to perform a range of light work. Id. She can exert 20 pounds of force occasionally and 10 pounds of force frequently to move objects, except that she can lift no more than 10 pounds with her dominant right hand and no more than 20 pounds bilaterally or with her left hand alone. Id. She can stand/walk up to 4 hours and sit up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. She cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; balance; be exposed to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights or other high risk, hazardous or unsafe conditions; or have concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat or extreme vibration. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs; walk on uneven ground; stoop; kneel; crouch; crawl; and handle and finger objects with her dominant right upper extremity. She can perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a low stress work environment (defined as work requiring no more than occasional changes in work setting and no unusual, very fast pace or production rate requirements) that requires only occasional interaction with the public or coworkers. AR 31-32. Beginning February 20, 2011, Crow cannot perform any past relevant work, but is able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy such as surveillance system monitor and laboratory sampler. AR 34-35.

C. ALJ's Analysis of the ...


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