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Duron v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Alaska

January 4, 2016

DIEDRE LEANORA DURON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS DOCKET 10

RALPH R. BEISTLINE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Diedre Leanora Duron, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income which Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, denied. Tr. 20, 145. Plaintiff 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. Plaintiff seeks a remand for further administrative proceedings.

Plaintiff has filed an opening brief on the merits, construed by this Court as a motion for summary judgment. Defendant opposes, arguing the denial of benefits is supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Plaintiff has replied. Docket nos. 10, 14 & 15. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment at Docket 10 is GRANTED and this matter is REMANDED for further consideration.

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. Plaintiff 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:

Step 1. Determine whether the claimant is involved in “substantial gainful activity. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since ...

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