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Bealer v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 21, 2014

BRIAN BEALER, as Heir and Representative of the Estate of Tonia Marie Bealer, 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 15, 2013, plaintiff Brian Bealer ("plaintiff"), heir of Tonia Marie Bealer[1] ("claimant") and representative of the claimant's estate, filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of claimant'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 23, 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 April 9, 2010, the claimant filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits. (AR 23, 131). The claimant asserted that she became disabled on May 6, 2009, due to agoraphobia, rapid cycling bipolar disorder, anxiety, fear of men when alone with them, severe depression and mania, and panic attacks with chest pains. (AR 157-58). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") examined the medical record and heard testimony from the claimant (who was represented by counsel) and a vocational expert on February 1, 2012. (AR 38-63).

On April 10, 2012, the ALJ determined that the claimant was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 23-33). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) the claimant suffered from severe impairments of bipolar disorder and alcohol dependence in questionable remission, and nonsevere impairments of hypertension and back pain (AR 25-26); (2) the claimant's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 26-28); (3) the claimant retained the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but was limited to occupations involving non-public, simple and repetitive tasks, with only occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, and no teamwork (AR 28); (4) the claimant could not perform her past relevant work (AR 32); (5) there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could perform, specifically office helper, hand packager, and mail clerk (AR 32-33); and (6) the claimant's allegations regarding her limitations were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment (AR 29).

The Appeals Council denied the claimant'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 the 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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