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Unger v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

March 6, 2014

DAVID A. UNGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER ADDRESSING SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS

CAROLYN S. OSTBY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff David A. Unger ("Unger") initiated this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383(c). Cmplt. (ECF 4). On August 20, 2013, upon the parties' consent, this case was assigned to the undersigned for all purposes. Notice of Assignment (ECF 14).

Now pending are: (1) Unger's "Opposed Motion for Summary Judgment, Motion for Declaratory Judgment and Motion for Remand[, ]" ECF 18 ; and (2) the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment, ECF 20. For the reasons stated below, the Court will remand this matter for an award of benefits.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Unger filed his SSI application on February 8, 2010. AR 310-18. [1] He filed his DIB application on June 9, 2011. AR 72-78. In both applications, Unger alleged that he became unable to work on February 25, 2006. AR 72, 310. He maintained that he has been unable to work because of neck pain, back pain, and limitations stemming from being born with a right clubfoot. AR 329-30.

The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Unger's applications initially and on reconsideration. AR 38-44, 319-23. On October 2, 2012, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing. AR 324-80. On October 22, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Unger's claims. AR 14-23. On May 7, 2013, after the Appeals Council denied Unger's request for review, the ALJ's decision became final for purposes of judicial review. AR 5-8 ; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481 (2013). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court's review is limited. The Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only where the decision is not supported by substantial evidence or where the decision is based on legal error. Ryan v. Commr. of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Id. (citing Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n. 1 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, and cannot affirm the ALJ "by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citation omitted).

III. BURDEN OF PROOF

A claimant is disabled for purposes of the Act if: (1) the claimant has a 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 twelve months, and (2) the impairment or impairments are of such severity that, considering the claimant's age, education, and work experience, the claimant is not only unable to perform previous work, but the claimant cannot "engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Schneider v. Commr. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 974 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(B)).

In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).

1. The claimant must first show that he or she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.
2. If not so engaged, the claimant must next show that he or she has a severe impairment. Id.
3. The claimant is conclusively presumed disabled if his or her impairments meet or medically equal one contained in the Listing of Impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (hereafter "Listing of Impairments"). Id. If the claimant's impairments do not meet or medically ...

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