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Jackson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

December 19, 2017

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          John Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff 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 basis.


         Ray 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).

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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).

         Mr. 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.


         The 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).

         “The 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. 2002).

         The 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. 1999).


         A 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. §1382(a)(3)(A)-(B)).

         The 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 inquiry are:

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), 416.920(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. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
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).


         IV. ...

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