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Hamilton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 7, 2017

CHANAH R. HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HONORABLE KENLY KIYA KATO United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Chanah R. Hamilton (“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”) and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this action is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         I.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 29, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of November 29, 2010. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 263-72. Plaintiff's application was denied initially on May 16, 2012, and upon reconsideration on January 3, 2013. Id at 125-26, 157-58. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id at 182. On October 1, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before the assigned ALJ. Id at 34-91. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. Id at 71-87. On January 13, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. Id at 14-28.

         On March 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request to the Agency's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 11. On June 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id at 1-7.

         On August 4, 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 May 9, 2017. Dkt. 21, JS.

         II.

         PLAINTIFF'S BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on April 3, 1969, and her alleged disability onset date is November 29, 2010. AR at 37, 40, 263. She was forty-one years old on the alleged disability onset date and forty-five years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. Id at 37, 40, 263. Plaintiff completed four years of college and she has work experience as a home health aide, clerk, area supervisor, and computer systems manager. Id at 73, 75. Plaintiff alleges disability based on depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, hypokalemia, and a history of alcoholism in remission. Id at 39.

         III.

         STANDARD FOR EVALUATING DISABILITY

         To qualify for DIB and SSI, 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.[2]
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 ...


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