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Walter R. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 18, 2019

WALTER R.,[1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL,[2] Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND

          HONORABLE JACQUELINE CHOOLJIAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. SUMMARY

         On March 1, 2019, plaintiff Walter R. filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's applications 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”) (collectively “Motions”). The Court has taken the Motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; L.R. 7-15; March 5, 2019 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 November 16, 2015, plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging disability beginning on June 1, 2014, due to stenosis of the spine, sleep deprivation, neuropathy, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.[3] (AR 197, 204, 210, 212, 250). Plaintiff later alleged a new condition, “sc[h]izoaffective bipolar nonconsildate [sic] mixed severe systematiz [sic], ” beginning on June 30, 2016. (AR 311). The ALJ examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel) and a vocational expert. (AR 38-63).

         On May 4, 2018, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 20-32). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of stenosis of the lumbar spine; neuropathy; major depressive disorder; adjustment disorder; bipolar I disorder; schizoaffective disorder; and anxiety (AR 22); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 23); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)) with additional limitations[4] (AR 25); (4) plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work (AR 30); (5) plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as mail sorter, bench assembler, and swatch clerk (AR 30-31); and (6) plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of subjective symptoms were not entirely consistent with or supported by the evidence of record (AR 28-29).

         On January 8, 2019, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review. (AR 1-6).

         III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Administrative Evaluation of Disability Claims

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that he 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); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905. To be considered disabled, a claimant must have an impairment of such severity that he is incapable of performing work the claimant previously performed (“past relevant work”) as well as any other “work which exists in the national economy.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)).

         To assess whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to use the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in Social Security regulations. See Stout v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration, 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006) (describing five-step sequential evaluation process) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920). The claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through four - i.e., determination of whether the claimant was engaging in substantial gainful activity (step 1), has a sufficiently severe impairment (step 2), has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the conditions listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listings”) (step 3), and retains the residual functional capacity to perform past relevant work (step 4). Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five - i.e., establishing that the claimant could perform other work in the national economy. Id.

         B. Federal Court Review of Social Security ...


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