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Hernandez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 25, 2016

Beatriz Hernandez, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

NEIL V. WAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff Beatriz Hernandez seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied her disability insurance under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is not supported by substantial evidence and is based on legal error, the Commissioner’s decision will be vacated and the matter remanded for calculation and award of benefits.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born in November 1966 and was 43 years old on the alleged disability onset date. She was trained as a nurse in Mexico and worked as a nurse for a year in Mexico, but she never worked as a nurse in the United States. In the United States Plaintiff worked in a warehouse assembling and packing orders. On weekends, she cleaned equipment used in the warehouse.

Plaintiff speaks and understands basic English, but she has difficulty reading and writing in English. During the hearing before the administrative law judge, Plaintiff testified through an interpreter. During medical appointments, she relied on Spanish interpreters. She has worked only in primarily Spanish-speaking environments. When Plaintiff filed her claim for disability insurance benefits, the interview was conducted in Spanish.

B. Procedural History

On April 2, 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 4, 2009. On July 29, 2013, she appeared with her attorney and testified through a Spanish interpreter at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.

On October 21, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. On March 11, 2015, Plaintiff sought review by this Court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court reviews only those issues raised by the party challenging the ALJ’s decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). The court may set aside the Commissioner’s disability determination only if the determination is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a whole. Id.

III. FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

To determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act, the ALJ follows a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

At the first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. At step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a “severe” medically determinable physical or mental impairment. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If not, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. At step three, the ALJ considers whether the claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant’s residual functional capacity and determines whether the claimant is still capable of performing past relevant work. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step, ...


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