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Paige James v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 18, 2019

SHARON LYNETTE PAIGE JAMES, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

         ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 15) ORDER REMANDING THE ACTION PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G) AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF SHARON LYNETTE PAIGE JAMES AND AGAINST DEFENDANT, THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Sharon Lynette Paige James asserts she is entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff argues the administrative law judge erred in terminating the analysis at step one of the sequential evaluation. Because the ALJ erred at step one and failed to determine whether Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could be expected to last twelve months, the matter is REMANDED for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Procedural History

         In January 2015, Plaintiff filed an application a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability due to anxiety disorder, Bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, left shoulder rotator cup pain, and Fuchs' corneal dystrophy. (Doc. 9-4 at 80; Doc. 9-6 at 17) The Social Security Administration denied her application at the initial level and upon reconsideration. (See Doc. 9-4 at 79-98; Doc. 9-3 at 12) Plaintiff requested a hearing and testified before an ALJ on April 25, 2017. (See Doc. 9-3 at 12, 26) The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled because there was “no continuous 12-month period during which the claimant [had] not engaged in substantial gainful activity” and issued an order denying benefits on November 13, 2017. (Id. at 16)

         Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, asserting that the ALJ erred in his decision, and stating she “not been able to work in well over 12 months.” (Doc. 9-5 at 69) On August 2, 2018, the Appeals Council “denied Plaintiff's request for review, finding “no reason under [the] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision.” (Doc. 9-3 at 2-4) Thus, the ALJ's determination became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         II. Standard of Review

         District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ's determination that the claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the proper legal standards were applied and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

         Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as a whole must be considered, because “[t]he court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion.” Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).

         III. Disability Benefits

         To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:

his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The burden of proof is on a claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). If a claimant establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is able to engage in other substantial gainful employment. Maounis v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984).

         IV.Administrative ...


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