United States District Court, C.D. California
MARIA M. BARRIOS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER REVERSING
ROSENBLUTH U.S. Magistrate Judge
seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying
her applications for Social Security disability insurance
benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income
benefits ("SSI"). The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge under
28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The matter is before the Court on
the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed December 28, 2015,
which the Court has taken under submission without oral
argument. For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and this action is
remanded for further proceedings.
was born in 1956. (Administrative Record ("AR")
155.) She completed 12th grade and worked as a secretary for
a moving company. (AR 191, 218.)
February 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and
SSI (AR 12), alleging that she had been unable to work since
January 15, 2013, because of an enlarged heart, diabetes,
carpal-tunnel syndrome, poor kidney function, high blood
pressure, and shortness of breath. (AR 190.) After her
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration,
she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
(AR 100-01.) A hearing was held on July 9, 2014, at which
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did
a vocational expert. (AR 23-43.) In a written decision issued
September 5, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR
10-21.) This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 of
legal error and supported by substantial evidence based on
the record as a whole. See id.; Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v.
Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial
evidence means such 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 the
Commissioner's. Id. at 720-21.
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted,
or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least
12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81
F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended Apr. 9, 1996).
In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether
the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim
must be denied. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether
the claimant has a "severe" impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting her ability
to do basic work activities; if not, the claimant is not
disabled and her claim must be denied. §§
claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination
of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments ("Listing") set forth at 20 C.F.R. part
404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively
presumed. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth
step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the
claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform her past work; if so, she is
not disabled and the claim must be denied. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the
burden of proving she is unable to perform past relevant
work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant
meets that burden, a prima facie case of disability is
happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, the
Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the
claimant is not disabled because she can perform other
substantial gainful work available in the national economy.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v);
Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. That determination
comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential