United States District Court, D. Arizona
S. Willett United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff Veronica Castro's
(“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Social Security
Administration's (“Social Security”) denial
of her applications for supplemental security income and
surviving child's insurance benefits. The Court has
jurisdiction to decide Plaintiff's appeal pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), the Court has the power to enter, based upon the
pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming,
modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security, with or without remanding the case for a
rehearing. Both parties have consented to the exercise of
U.S. Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13).
reviewing the Administrative Record (“A.R.”) and
the parties' briefing (Docs. 19, 23, 24), the Court finds
that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
decision contains harmful legal error. For the reasons
explained in Section II below, the decision is reversed and
the case is remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security
for an immediate award of benefits effective October 1, 2010
(the disability onset date).
Disability Analysis: Five-Step Evaluation
Social Security Act provides for supplemental security income
to certain individuals who are aged 65 or older, blind, or
disabled and have limited income. 42 U.S.C. § 1382. To
be eligible for benefits based on an alleged disability, the
claimant must show that he or she suffers from a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that prohibits him
or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(A)(3)(A).
The claimant must also show that the impairment is expected
to cause death or last for a continuous period of at least 12
Social Security Act also provides disabled child's
insurance benefits based on the earnings record of an insured
person who is entitled to old-age or disability benefits or
has died. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d); 20 C.F.R. §
404.350(a). The same definition of “disability”
and five-step sequential evaluation outlined below governs
eligibility for disabled child's insurance benefits.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(1)-(2). In addition, in order to qualify for
disabled child's insurance benefits several criteria must
be met. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(1)-(5). For
instance, if the claimant is over 18, the claimant must
“have a disability that began before [she] became 22
years old.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(5).
decide if a claimant is entitled to Social Security
disability benefits, an ALJ conducts an analysis consisting
of five questions, which are considered in sequential steps.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The claimant
has the burden of proof regarding the first four
the claimant engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”? If so, the analysis ends and disability
benefits are denied. Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to step two.
Step Two: Does the claimant have a
medically severe impairment or combination of impairments? A
severe impairment is one which significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments, disability benefits are denied at
this step. Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to step three.
Step Three: Is the impairment
equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the
Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals
one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively
presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one that is
presumed to be disabling, the ALJ proceeds to the fourth step
of the analysis.
Step Four: Does the impairment
prevent the claimant from performing work which the claimant
performed in the past? If not, the claimant is “not
disabled” and disability benefits are denied without
continuing the analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f),
416.920(f). Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to the last step.
analysis proceeds to the final question, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner:
Step Five: Can the claimant perform
other work in the national economy in light of his or her
age, education, and work experience? The claimant is entitled
to disability benefits only if he or she is unable to perform
other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).
Social Security is responsible for providing evidence that
demonstrates that other work exists in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant can do, given the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience. Id.
Standard of Review Applicable to ALJ's
Court must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence and is based on correct legal standards.
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir.
2012); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th
Cir. 1990). Although “substantial evidence” is
less than a preponderance, it is more than a “mere
scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison v.
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