United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER REVERSING
ROSENBLUTH UNITED STATES 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 under 28 U.S.C. §
636(c). The matter is before the Court on the parties'
Joint Stipulation, filed November 13, 2017, 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 1975. (Administrative Record (“AR”)
54, 66, 157, 161.) She completed 12th grade (AR 188) and
worked as a court clerk, an in-home caregiver, and a
bookkeeper (AR 32, 177, 189).
November 5 and 19, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI,
respectively, alleging that she had been unable to work since
March 6, 2013, because of lower-back pain, arthritis,
depression, anxiety, and a spinal tear. (AR 54-55, 66-67,
157-66, 187.) After her applications were denied (AR 78-79,
82-85, 87-90), she requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (AR 92-94). A hearing was held on
March 12, 2015, at which Plaintiff testified, as did a
vocational expert and two medical experts. (See AR
29-53.) In a written decision issued April 23, 2015, the ALJ
found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 15-28.) Plaintiff sought
Appeals Council review (AR 9-10), which was denied on
November 15, 2016 (AR 1-6). 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. 1998). “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 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), 416.920(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 set forth at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P,
appendix 1; if ...