United States District Court, D. Arizona
NEIL V. WAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff Gerald Louis Kuryla filed this case for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied him disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Defendant concedes that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is not supported by substantial evidence, and the parties agree that Plaintiff is entitled to judgment. (Doc. 26.) Defendant moves to remand this case for further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff contends the court should remand for award of benefits. (Id.) The sole issue before the Court is whether this case should be remanded for further proceedings or for award of benefits.
Plaintiff was born on August 8, 1951, and was 59 years old on the alleged disability onset date. He was 62 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. He has a high school education and speaks English. He worked as a restaurant manager through 1996, as a hotel clerk 1997-2001, as a flower shop salesperson 2002-2005, and as a gas station cashier from 2006 to the present. In June 2011, he reduced his work at the gas station to part-time. At the time of the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff was working 15 hours per week, earning $10.05 per hour. His impairments are spinal stenosis and obesity.
Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on May 3, 2011, and for supplemental security income July 1, 2011, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2011. On August 15, 2013, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a video hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On September 18, 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 23, 2015, Plaintiff sought review by this Court.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
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). If the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence or suffers from legal error, the district court has discretion to reverse and remand either for an award of benefits or for further administrative proceedings. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1292 (9th Cir. 1996); Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1232 (9th Cir. 1987). “Remand for further proceedings is appropriate if enhancement of the record would be useful.” Benecke v. Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 593 (9th Cir. 2004). “Conversely, where the record has been developed fully and further administrative proceedings would serve no useful purpose, the district court should remand for an immediate award of benefits.” Id. (citing Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1292).
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, where he determines whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant’s residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled. Id.
At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2017, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2011. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: spinal stenosis and obesity. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:
has the residual functional capacity to perform a significant range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant cannot climb ladders, rope and scaffolds or work around dangerous moving machinery. The claimant must avoid exposure to dust, smoke and other respiratory irritants and extremes in temperature and humidity. The claimant is limited to occasional stair climbing and frequent reaching overhead.
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work, which is restaurant manager, salesperson, and gas station cashier, because of ...