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Kelsay v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 4, 2016

Casondra Kelsay, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

ORDER

Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff Casondra Kelsay, which challenges the Social Security Administration’s decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 13.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court vacates that decision and remands for further consideration.

BACKGROUND

On July 8, 2011, Kelsay filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of December 31, 2005. (Tr. 174.) After Kelsay’s claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing, which the ALJ held on June 27, 2013. (Tr. 41-65.) At the hearing, Kelsay’s disability onset date was amended to May 19, 2011. (Tr. 45.) On August 30, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Kelsay not disabled. (Tr. 22-38.)

In evaluating whether Kelsay was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] (Id.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Kelsay “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 9, 2011, the amended alleged onset date.” (Tr. 27.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Kelsay suffered from the severe impairments of chronic pain syndrome, lumbago status post osteomyelitis and shunt, degenerative disc disease, blind in left eye, borderline diabetes, bronchitis and lupus. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration’s listed impairments. (Tr. 28.)

At that point, the ALJ made a determination of Kelsay’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”), [2] concluding that Kelsay could “perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a).” (Tr. 28.) The ALJ thus determined at step four that Kelsay could perform her past relevant work as a telemarketer. (Tr. 32.) Thus, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. Given this analysis, the ALJ concluded that Kelsay was not disabled. (Tr. 33.)

The Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-6.) Kelsay filed the complaint underlying this action on February 9, 2015, seeking this Court’s review of the ALJ’s denial of benefits.[3] (Doc. 1.) The matter is now fully briefed before this Court. (Doc. 13, 17, 18.)

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

A reviewing federal court will only address the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ’s decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). “Substantial” evidence amounts to “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

Here, Defendant Commissioner of Social Security concedes that the ALJ erred in evaluating Kelsay’s application. (Doc. 17 at 2.) The parties disagree only as to whether the Court should remand for further proceedings or for an award of benefits. As such, the sole issue before this Court is remedy.

II. Remedy

Kelsay requests that the Court remand her case for an award of benefits. (Doc. 13 at 10-11.) Remanding for an award of benefits is proper in certain circumstances pursuant to the Ninth Circuit’s “credit-as-true rule, ” under which the Court should remand for benefits where:

(1) the record has been fully developed and further administrative proceedings would serve no useful purpose; (2) the ALJ has failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting evidence, whether claimant testimony or medical opinion; and (3) if the improperly discredited evidence were ...

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