United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF ACTING COMMISSIONER OF
SOCIAL SECURITY AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
Derrick K. Watson, United States District Judge.
March 13, 2018, Plaintiff Rebecca West appealed the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. In her Opening Brief, West asks
this Court to review (1) whether the Administrative Law
Judge's (ALJ) failure to identify skills West obtained
from prior work constitutes reversible error, and (2) whether
the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.
After carefully reviewing the record and the arguments of
counsel in their briefs and during oral argument, the Court
concludes that this case must be remanded for further
administrative proceedings as set forth below.
Review of Disability Claims
five-step process exists for evaluating whether a person is
disabled under the Social Security Act (SSA). 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520; 20 C.F.R § 416.920. First, the claimant
must demonstrate that she is not currently involved in any
substantial, gainful activity. Id. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b).
Second, the claimant must show a medically severe impairment
or combination of impairments that significantly limit her
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c);
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c) Third, if the impairment
matches or is equivalent to an established listing under the
governing regulations, the claimant is judged conclusively
disabled. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d);
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).
claimant's impairment does not match or is not equivalent
to an established listing, the Commissioner makes a finding
about the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform work. Id. § 404.1520(e); §
416.920(e). The evaluation then proceeds to a fourth step,
which requires the claimant to show her impairment, in light
of the RFC, prevents her from performing work she performed
in the past. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
(e), (f); §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (e), (f). If the
claimant is able to perform her previous work, she is not
disabled. Id. § 404.1520(f); § 416.920(f).
If the claimant cannot perform her past work, though, the
evaluation proceeds to a fifth step. Id.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g); §§
416.920(a)(4)(v), (g). At this final step, the Commissioner
must demonstrate that (1) based upon the claimant's RFC,
age, education, and work experience, the claimant can perform
other work, and (2) such work is available in significant
numbers in the national economy. Id. §
404.1560(c); § 416.960(c); Tackett v. Apfel,
180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (explaining that, at Step
Five, the burden moves to the Commissioner). If the
Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is
deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1); §
The ALJ's Decision
November 16, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding West
“not disabled” under the SSA. Administrative
Record (“AR”) at 33. At Step One of the
evaluation process, the ALJ determined that West had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date of April 1, 2007. Id. at 24. At Step Two,
the ALJ determined that West had the following severe
impairments: left shoulder rotator cuff tear and adhesive
capsulitis; osteoporosis and degenerative disc disease in the
lumbar spine and hips with left hip sacroiliitis; and minor
motor seizures. Id. at 25-27. At Step Three, the ALJ
determined that West did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the impairments listed in the governing
regulations. Id. at 28.
reaching Step Four, the ALJ determined that West had the
she can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently, stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour
period, and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour period (i.e., light
exertional-level work as defined in [the governing
regulations]); she can occasionally push and/or pull with her
left upper extremity; she can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs (but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds); she
can frequently balance; she can occasionally stoop, kneel,
and crouch; she can never crawl[;] and[, ] she must avoid all
exposures to hazardous machinery and unprotected heights.
Id. at 28-30.
Four, the ALJ determined that West was unable to perform any
past relevant work. Id. at 30. In doing so, the ALJ
identified respiratory therapist and emergency medical
technician as skilled work West had performed in the past.
Five, the ALJ determined that jobs existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that West could perform.
Id. at 31-32. More specifically, a vocational expert
stated that, in light of West's RFC, age, education, and
work experience, she would be able to perform the skilled job
of cardiac monitor technician and the semi-skilled jobs of
phlebotomist and first aid attendant. Id. This final
determination resulted in the ALJ finding that West was not
disabled under the SSA at any time from April 1, 2007 through
November 16, 2016, the date of the decision. Id. at
The Appeals Council's Decision
Appeals Council granted various requests from West for more
time before acting on her case. Id. at 10, 13.
Thereafter, West submitted for the Appeals Council's
review medical records from the State of Hawaii Department of
Human Services dated July 11, 2014 through July 14, 2016,
containing four physical examination reports. Id. at
September 7, 2017, the Appeals Council denied West's
request for review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at
1. With respect to the medical records from the State of
Hawaii, the Appeals Council found that “this evidence
does not show a reasonable probability that it would change
the outcome of the decision.” Id. at 2. At the
same time, the Appeals Council stated that it “did not
consider and exhibit this evidence.” Id.
Opening Brief, Dkt. No. 18, West makes two principal
arguments. First, she asserts that the ALJ legally erred in
failing to specifically identify the skills that could
transfer from her prior work to the work the ALJ found she
could do. Second, she contends that the ALJ's decision
was not supported by substantial evidence, including evidence
the ALJ purportedly ignored and evidence submitted to the