United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell United States District Judge.
Robert Strickland seeks review pro se under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security which denied him disability insurance benefits under
sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Doc.
16. Defendant concedes that the administrative law
judge's (“ALJ”) opinion is based on
reversible legal error (Doc. 20), but the parties dispute
whether the Court should remand for further administrative
proceedings or an award of benefits (Docs. 16, 20). The Court
will vacate the Commissioner's decision and remand for
is a 67 year old male who previously worked as a collections
representative. A.R. 136, 188. Plaintiff applied for
disability insurance benefits on April 28, 2014, alleging
disability beginning on March 16, 2014. A.R. 136. On August
17, 2016, Plaintiff appeared without representation and
testified at a hearing before an ALJ. A.R. 15. A vocational
expert also testified. Id. On March 3, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. A.R. 15-23. This became
the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 8,
2017. A.R. 1-4.
the ALJ denies benefits and the court finds error, the court
ordinarily must remand to the agency for further proceedings
before directing an award of benefits.” Leon v.
Berryhill, 880 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2017). Under a
“rare exception” to this rule, the Court may
remand for an award of benefits after conducting a three-part
The three-part analysis . . . is known as the
“credit-as-true” rule. First, we ask whether the
ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for
rejecting evidence, whether claimant testimony or medical
opinion. Next, we determine whether there are outstanding
issues that must be resolved before a disability
determination can be made, and whether further administrative
proceedings would be useful. When these first two conditions
are satisfied, we then credit the discredited testimony as
true for the purpose of determining whether, on the record
taken as a whole, there is no doubt as to disability.
Id. (internal citations and quotation marks
omitted). The Ninth Circuit emphasized that the Court has
discretion to remand for further proceedings even if it
reaches the third step. Id. “Where an ALJ
makes a legal error, but the record is uncertain and
ambiguous, the proper approach is to remand the case to the
agency.” Id. (quotation marks
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation Process.
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, and the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). To establish disability, the
claimant must show that (1) he is not currently working, (2)
he has a severe impairment, and (3) this impairment meets or
equals a listed impairment or (4) his residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) prevents his performance of any
past relevant work. If the claimant meets his burden through
step three, the Commissioner must find him disabled. If the
inquiry proceeds to step four and the claimant shows that he
is incapable of performing past relevant work, the
Commissioner must show at step five that the claimant is
capable of other work suitable for his RFC, age, education,
and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31,
2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since March 16, 2014. A.R. 17. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes
mellitus, degenerative disc disease, post-traumatic stress
disorder, major depressive disorder, and status post deep
vein thrombosis. Id. The ALJ also noted the
following medically determinable but non-severe impairments:
hypertension, hearing loss, hypercholesterolemia, benign
prostatic hypertrophy, obstructive sleep apnea, enlarged
prostate, vitamin D deficiency, and testosterone deficiency.
A.R. 18. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals a listed impairment. Id.
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform medium work with some additional limitations and was
able to perform his past relevant work as a collector. A.R.
the three-part credit-as-true test, the Court concludes that
it must remand to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
First, Defendant concedes that the ALJ erred in evaluating
the medical opinion evidence, Plaintiff's symptom
testimony, and Plaintiff's 100% disability rating from
the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”). Doc.
20 at 3.
argues that there are outstanding conflicts in the medical
evidence that need to be resolved, and that additional
proceedings would be useful to reconsider Plaintiff's VA
disability rating and further develop the record.
Id. Plaintiff's opening brief argues that the
ALJ's decision is defective and requests “a fully
favorable decision . . . or a remand for
redevelopment.” See Doc. 16 at 6. Plaintiff
did not file a reply addressing ...