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Gilbert v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 31, 2016

Sharon Louise Gilbert, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Sharon Gilbert seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits. For the reasons stated below, this matter is remanded for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Gilbert is 67 years old and has a high school education. (Doc. 14 at 2.) She previously worked as an insurance clerk, fund trader, loan officer, and billings collection representative. (Id.) In 1991, Gilbert was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (“MS”). (Id. at 4.) She quit working in 2011.

         B. Procedural History

         On March 6, 2012, Gilbert applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 8, 2011. (A.R. 17.) On July 22, 2014, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.

         On October 1, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision that Gilbert was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Counsel denied Gilbert’s request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. On October 22, 2015, Gilbert sought review by this Court.

         II. Legal Standard

         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. In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the court must consider the record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a “specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Id. As a general rule, “[w]here the 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) (citations omitted).

         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 at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. 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 (“RFC”) 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 RFC, 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 Gilbert meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 8, 2011. (A.R. 19.) At step two, the ALJ found that Gilbert has the following severe impairments: MS and obesity. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Gilbert does not have an impairment or combination of ...


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