United States District Court, D. Alaska
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO REMAND AT DOCKET 17
R. BEISTLINE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Edward Lee Discher, filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on August
26, 2013, which Defendant, the Commissioner of Social
Security, denied. Claimant has exhausted his 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. Claimant seeks a reversal of the
Commissioner's decision and a remand for further
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. Claimant has replied.
Docket nos. 17, 19 & 20. For the reasons set forth below,
Claimant's Motion at Docket 17 is GRANTED and this matter
is REMANDED for further consideration.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.
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
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).
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:
Determine whether the claimant is involved in
“substantial gainful activity. Here the ALJ found that
Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 1, 2013, the alleged onset date. Tr. 14.
Determine whether the claimant has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. A severe impairment
significantly limits a claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities, and does not consider
age, education, or work experience. The severe impairment or
combination of impairments must satisfy the twelve-month
determined that Claimant had the following severe
impairments: arthritis, degenerative disc disease,
hypothyroidism, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(COPD). Tr. 14. The ALJ specifically found that
Claimant's depression was not severe.
Determine whether the impairment is the equivalent of a
number of listed impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
subpt. P, App. 1 that are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity. If the impairment is the
equivalent of one of the listed impairments and meets the
duration requirement, the claimant is conclusively presumed
to be disabled. If not, the evaluation goes on to the fourth
step. According to the ALJ, the Claimant does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of a listed impairment. Tr. 15.
Functional Capacity. Before proceeding to step four, a
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) is assessed. This RFC assessment is used
at both step four and step five. In evaluating his RFC, the
ALJ concluded ...