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Lewis v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

March 3, 2015

VALERIA RENE COLLINS LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DOUGLAS F. MCCORMICK, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Valeria Rene Collins Lewis ("Plaintiff") appeals the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in finding that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work. The ALJ's decision is therefore reversed and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed her applications for benefits in March 2010, alleging disability beginning September 30, 2009. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") as a babysitter from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2012, and therefore, was not disabled during that period. Administrative Record ("AR") 16-17. As for the remaining periods at issue, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and right ulnar neuropathy since October 2010, lower lumbar facet arthropathy and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine since September 2010, mild to moderate degenerative arthritis of the right knee, and hypertension. AR 17. The ALJ determined that, notwithstanding these impairments, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, with a limitation to occasional postural activities and frequent use of the bilateral hands. Id. At the administrative hearing, the ALJ called a vocational expert ("VE") to testify about Plaintiff's past relevant work. AR 41-42, 44-46. The ALJ relied on the VE's testimony to conclude that Plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform her past work as an "administrative assistant, " "customer service, " and "clerk, " as actually and generally performed. AR 22, 44-46. Plaintiff was not represented by counsel at the administrative hearing. AR 29-48.

II.

ISSUES PRESENTED

The parties dispute whether the ALJ erred in concluding that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work. See Joint Stipulation ("JS") at 3.

III.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free from legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v. Astrue , 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson , 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue , 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter , 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, " the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Id. at 720-21.

IV.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding that she could return to her past relevant work as an "administrative assistant, " "customer service, " and "clerk." JS at 3-9. Plaintiff asserts that she does not have any past experience working as a "clerk, " and her work as an administrative assistant and customer service clerk were not SGA. Id. at 3-7. Plaintiff further asserts that the ALJ failed to conduct proper inquiry into whether the ...


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