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Jones v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 3, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          HONORABLE KENLY KIYA KATO United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Barbie Sue Jones (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner” or “Agency”) denying her application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this action is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order.



         On April 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of January 30, 2014[2]. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 193-96. Plaintiff's application was denied initially on September 5, 2013, and upon reconsideration on February 3, 2014. Id. at 80-117, 122-130. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id. at 131-36. On December 7, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before the assigned ALJ. Id. at 40-79. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. Id. at 67-78. On January 13, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. Id. at 17-39.

         On March 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed a request to the Agency's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 16. On May 23, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-6.

         On July 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action. ECF Docket No. (“Dkt.”) 1, Compl. This matter is before the Court on the Parties' Joint Stipulation (“JS”), filed on April 13, 2017. Dkt. 15, JS.



         Plaintiff was born on July 31, 1964, and her alleged disability onset date is January 30, 2014. AR at 20, 195. She was forty-nine years old on the alleged disability onset date and fifty-one years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 42, 195. Plaintiff completed two years of college and has work experience as a sales associate/distribution clerk and postal worker. Id. at 61, 91, 207. Plaintiff alleges disability based on “autoimmune disease, autoimmune condition, lupus, arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, anxiety/depression, fatty liver disease, asthma, and sarcoidosis.” Id. at 225.



         To qualify for DIB, a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity, and that is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work she 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).

         To decide if a claimant is disabled, and therefore entitled to benefits, an ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The steps are:

1. Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, the claimant is found not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.
3. Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is found disabled. If not, proceed to step four.[3]
4. Is the claimant capable of performing work she has done in the past? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
5. Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not, the claimant is found disabled. If so, the claimant is found not disabled.

See Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-99; see also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(g)(1), 416.920(b)-(g)(1).

         The claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through four, and the Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54. Additionally, the ALJ has an affirmative duty to assist the claimant in developing the record at every step of the inquiry. Id. at 954. If, at step four, the claimant meets her burden of establishing an inability to perform past work, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform some other work that exists in “significant numbers” in the national economy, taking into account the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098, 1100; Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g)(1), 416.920(g)(1).



         A. STEP ONE

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged “in substantial gainful activity since January 30, 2014, the alleged onset date.” AR at 22.

         B. STEP TWO

         At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff “ha[d] the following severe impairments: right knee derangement status-post arthroplasty, fibromyalgia, obesity, and depression.” Id.

         C. STEP THREE

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff does “not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Id.


         The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following RFC:

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can lift, carry, push or pull 20 lbs. occasionally and 10 lbs. frequently, stand and walk for a total of 2 hours in an 8-hour day and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour day and occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Plaintiff] can understand remember and carry out simple work instructions with no interaction with the public and occasional contact with supervisors and coworkers.

Id. at 25.

         E. STEP FOUR

         At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff is “unable to perform any past relevant work.” Id. at 31.

         F. STEP FIVE

         At step five, the ALJ found “[c]onsidering [Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can ...

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