United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.
Ray Jackson (Mr. Jackson) appeals the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, after a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). For the reasons set forth
below, Mr. Jackson's Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted in part and denied in part, and his claim is remanded
to the Commissioner to have the ALJ discuss whether Mr.
Jackson has the ability to perform sustained work activities
in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Louis Jackson brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner denying his application for disability benefits.
Mr. Jackson filed his application for disability insurance
benefits on February 21, 2014, alleging a disability onset
date of May 15, 2007 (Doc. 7 at 140). Mr. Jackson's
claimed that the following conditions limit his ability to
work: hypopituitarism, narcolepsy, depression, peripheral
neuropathy, high blood pressure, acid reflux, pre-diabetic,
and atrial fibrillation.” (Id. at 158). Mr.
Jackson's date last insured is December 31, 2013.
(Id. at 151). Mr. Jackson's date of birth is
February 12, 1958. Mr. Jackson was 56 years old when he filed
his application for benefits and he is currently 59 years
old. (Id. at 65).
Jackson's claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration, and he filed a timely request for a hearing
before an ALJ. (Doc. 7 at 97). An ALJ conducted a hearing on
May 14, 2015, (Id. at 30-63) and later denied Mr.
Jackson's application for benefits in a July 10, 2015
decision. (Id. at 11-29).
Jackson timely requested that the Commissioner review the
ALJ's decision on September 14, 2015. (Id. at
10). The Appeals Council for the Commissioner denied Mr.
Jackson's request for review on January 11, 2017, making
the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's “final
decision.” (Id. at 1-9).
Jackson timely filed a complaint on March 14, 2017, seeking
judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1).
The Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties consented to the
undersigned conducting all further proceedings in this
matter. (Doc. 9). The Great Falls Division of the District of
Montana is the proper venue because Mr. Jackson resides in
Cascade County, Montana. (Doc. 1 at 2); 42 U.S.C. 405(g);
Local Rule 1.2(c)(2).
Jackson filed an opening brief on July 14, 2017, requesting
that the Court reverse the Commissioner's decision and
remand for an immediate award of benefits or, in the
alternative, remand for a further hearing. (Doc. 12). The
Commissioner filed a response brief on August 18, 2017. (Doc.
13). Mr. Jackson filed a reply brief on August 28, 2017.
(Doc. 14). The motion is ripe for decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d
1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir.
2006). Substantial evidence has also been described as
“more than a mere scintilla” but “less than
a preponderance.” Desrosiers v. Sec. of Health and
Hum. Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988).
ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving
ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). This Court must uphold the
Commissioner's findings “if supported by inferences
reasonably drawn from the record.” Batson v.
Comm'r of SSA, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
“[I]f evidence exists to support more than one rational
interpretation, ” the Court “must defer to the
Commissioner's decision.” Id. at 1193
(citing Morgan v. Comm'r, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th
Cir. 1999)). This Court “may not substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner.”
Widmark, 454 F.3d at 1070 (quoting Edlund,
253 F.3d at 1156). Where 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.
Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
Commissioner's conclusion. Green v. Sheckler,
803 F.2d 528, 530 (9th Cir. 1986). The Court may reject the
findings not supported by the record, but it may not
substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner.
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
BURDEN OF PROOF
claimant is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act
if the claimant demonstrates by a preponderance of the
evidence that (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 also cannot “engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” Schneider v. Comm'r of
SSA, 223 F.3d 968, 974 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing 42 U.S.C.
Commissioner's regulations provide a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
disabled. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953
(9th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through
four, and the Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step
five. Id. at 954. The five steps of the
1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially
gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. If not, proceed to
step two. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If so, proceed to
step three. If not, the claimant is not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
3. Does the impairment “meet or equal” one of a
list of specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 220,
Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is disabled. If not, proceed
to step four. See 20 C.F.R. §§
4. Is the claimant able to do any work that he or she has
done in the past? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If
not, proceed to step five. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
5. Is the claimant able to do any other work? If so, the
claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).