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Pommerville v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 15, 2017

JOANNE POMMERVILLE, on behalf of Debra Ragland deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND

          HONORABLE JACQUELINE CHOOLJIAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. SUMMARY

         On June 9, 2016, JoAnne Pommerville (“plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on behalf of her late daughter, Debra Ragland (“claimant”), 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; June 30, 2016 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 2, 2012, the claimant filed applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits alleging disability beginning on March 8, 2008, due to neck problems after surgery and a sciatic nerve problem. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 14, 156, 158, 183). The claimant passed away on November 27, 2013. (AR 14, 543). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel on behalf of the claimant) and a vocational expert on September 10, 2014. (AR 25-42).

         On September 26, 2014, the ALJ determined that the claimant was not disabled through the date of her death. (AR 14-20). Specifically, the ALJ found that prior to the claimant's death: (1) the claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: chronic pain syndrome, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spines, and carpal tunnel syndrome (AR 16-17); (2) the claimant's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 17); (3) the claimant retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b)) with additional limitations[1] (AR 18); (4) the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a floral retail manager (AR 19); and (5) the claimant's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her subjective symptoms were not entirely credible (AR 18).

         On April 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff'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 required to use the following five-step sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
(2) Is the claimant's alleged impairment sufficiently severe to limit the claimant's ability to work? If not, the claimant is not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.
(3) Does the claimant's impairment, or combination of impairments, meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is ...

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