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Stevens v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Alaska

October 21, 2015

DELORIS ANN STEVENS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REMANDING FOR PAYMENT OF BENEFITS DOCKET 16

RALPH R. BEISTLINE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

Claimant, DELORIS ANN STEVENS, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits which Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, denied. Claimant has exhausted her administrative remedies and seeks relief from this Court, arguing that the Commissioner’s decision that she is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not supported by substantial evidence. Docket 1. Claimant seeks a reversal of the Commissioner’s decision and an award of benefits. Specifically, she asserts that the ALJ erred in the evaluation of the evidence pertaining to her back impairment and psoriatic arthritis. Docket 16 at 1. Claimant requests that this Court remand this case to the Commissioner for payment of benefits, pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Docket 16. In opposition, the Commissioner argues that although errors were made, the proper remedy is a remand to the ALJ for further consideration. Docket 20. Claimant has replied. Docket 21.

For the reasons set forth below, Claimant’s Motion at Docket 16 is GRANTED and this matter is REMANDED for payment of benefits.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The findings of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) or Commissioner of Social Security regarding any fact shall be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(2010). A decision to deny benefits will not be overturned unless it either is not supported by substantial evidence or is based upon legal error. Matney ex rel. Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1200 (9th Cir. 1990)). “Substantial evidence” has been defined by the United States Supreme Court as “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, 229 (1938)). Such evidence must be “more than a mere scintilla, ” but also “less than a preponderance.” Id. at 401; Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975). In making its determination, the Court considers the evidence in its entirety, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the Commissioner’s conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ’s conclusion must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452-53 (9th Cir. 1984).

III. DETERMINING DISABILITY

The Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides for the payment of disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) to people who have contributed to the Social Security program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a) (2012). In addition, supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) may be available to individuals who are age 65 or over, blind or disabled, but who do not have insured status under the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1381 (2012). Disability is defined in the Social Security Act as follows:

[I]nability 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.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (2012). The Act further provides:

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental 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. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), “work which exists in the national economy” means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (2012).

The Commissioner has established a five-step process for determining disability. Claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id. The steps, and the ALJ’s findings in this case, are as follows:[1]

Step 1. Determine whether the claimant is involved in “substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial work activity since her alleged ...


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