Bigelow v. Barnhart
Order on Motion to Remand to Agency
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF ALASKA
Commissioner of Social Security,
ORDER FROM CHAMBERS
Motion at Docket 34]
I. MOTION PRESENTED
At docket 34, defendant Joanne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security,
moves the court “to reverse and remand this case for further administrative proceedings
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).”1 Plaintiff Brenda Bigelow opposes the
motion at docket 42. Defendant did not file a reply. Oral argument was not requested,
and it would not assist the court.
This dispute arises from defendant’s denial of plaintiff’s application for disability
benefits. Plaintiff Brenda Bigelow applied for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
benefits on October 22, 1996, alleging a disability onset date of October 2, 1992. The
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied plaintiff’s application for SSI. The SSA’s
decision was upheld on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested and received a hearing
Doc. 34 at 1.
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On November 30, 1998, the ALJ issued a
decision denying plaintiff’s application. Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ’s
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on September 15, 2000.
On November 20, 2000, plaintiff filed the underlying complaint seeking judicial
review of the ALJ’s decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).2 Plaintiff filed an amended
complaint on March 22, 2001.3 On August 6, 2001, defendant filed a motion for remand
for further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)4
for the express purpose of locating plaintiff’s claim file or, in the alternative,
reconstructing a claim file.5 The court granted defendant’s motion to remand by minute
order dated October 4, 2001.6
On December 5, 2005, plaintiff filed a motion to compel defendant to comply with
the requirements of sentence six “by preparing and filing the Certified Administrative
Record and Transcript” for the court’s review.7 By minute order dated April 14, 2006,
the court granted plaintiff’s motion and ordered defendant to comply with sentence six of
Sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) states,
The court may, on motion of the Commissioner of Social Security made for good cause
shown before the Commissioner files the Commissioner’s answer, remand the case to
the Commissioner of Social Security for further action by the Commissioner of Social
Security, and it may at any time order additional evidence to be taken before the
Commissioner of Social Security, but only upon a showing that there is new evidence
which is material and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate such
evidence into the record in a prior proceeding; and the Commissioner of Social Security
shall, after the case is remanded and after hearing such additional evidence if so
ordered, modify or affirm the Commissioner’s findings of fact or the Commissioner’s
decision, or both, and shall file with the court any such additional and modified findings
of fact and decision, and, in any case in which the Commissioner has not made a
decision fully favorable to the individual, a transcript of the additional record and
testimony upon which the Commissioner’s action in modifying or affirming was based.
Doc. 31 at 2
§ 405(g) by filing the record of the Administrative Decision by May 15, 2006. The
court’s order further stated:
If defendant takes the position that the record lodged on March 15,
2006, is a record of the Administrative Decision which fully complies
with the requirements of Sentence Six, defendant may respond to
this order by filing on or before May 15, 2006, an affidavit or
declaration from an appropriate person stating that the record
lodged on March 15, 2006, is the complete record in full compliance
with Sentence Six with respect to the Administrative Decision.8
Defendant subsequently filed a notice of compliance stating that “the record
lodged on March 15, 2006, is the record of the Administrative Decision which fully
complies with the requirements of Sentence Six.”9 Defendant’s notice further asserts
that a complaint filed by plaintiff on March 2, 2006, which is also before this court,10
“involves a separate application for social security benefits, a separate administrative
decision, and thus a separate legal claim.”11
On March 15, 2006, defendant filed a motion requesting the court “to reverse and
remand this case for further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).”12 Defendant’s motion for remand is now ripe for the court’s review.
Doc. 43 at 2.
Doc. 1 in 3:06-cv-0048 JWS.
Doc. 43 at 2.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
For purposes of the Social Security Act (“SSA”), a “disability” is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected...to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.”13 A person is not disabled if he or she is
capable of engaging “in any...kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
Disability claims are evaluated using a five-step sequential analysis which is set
forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404-1520.15 Upon denial of disability benefits, a claimant may
request the SSA Appeals Council to review the ALJ’s decision.16 Where, as here, the
Appeals Council denies a request for review, the decision of the ALJ represents the final
decision of the Commissioner.17 The claimant may then seek judicial review of the
ALJ’s decision by the district court.18
On de novo review, the district court may enter, upon the pleadings and a
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the ALJ’s decision,
with or without remanding the case for a rehearing.19 The ALJ’s decision must be
upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards.20 “Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2).
Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
20 C.F.R. § 404.967.
Batson v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 n.1 (9th Cir.
2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.981).
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Howard v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2001).
adequate to support a conclusion.’”21 When evidence supports either confirming or
reversing the ALJ’s decision, the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that
of the ALJ.22
Defendant moves the court “to reverse and remand this case for further
administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).”23
Sentence four of § 405(g) states, “The court shall have power to enter, 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
In its motion for remand, defendant concedes that “[t]he Commissioner’s final
decision, issued on November 30, 1998 (Tr. 17-34), was not supported by substantial
evidence or free of legal error.”24 Defendant further asserts that the judgment must
therefor go to plaintiff and the only remaining issue “is the choice of remedy, either
further proceedings or immediate payment of benefits.”25
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court has discretion to remand a case for either
additional evidence and findings or to award benefits.26 The court “may direct an award
of benefits where the record has been fully developed and where further administrative
proceedings would serve no useful purpose.”27 A remand for benefits is particularly
indicated where a claimant has already experienced lengthy, burdensome litigation.28
Id. (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)).
Batson, 359 F.3d at 1196.
Doc. 35 at 2.
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1292 (9th Cir. 1996).
Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 1053 (9th Cir. 2001) .
Pursuant to defendant’s request, this matter was previously remanded to the
Commissioner of Social Security for further administrative proceedings in October of
2001. Having presumably completed such additional administrative proceedings,
defendant now takes the position that the administrative record lodged on March 15,
2006, “fully complies with the requirements of Sentence Six” of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).29
The court has reviewed the record lodged at docket 35, and finds that it does not
support the ALJ’s denial of plaintiff’s application for disability benefits dated October 22,
1996. In light of the fact that the court previously remanded this matter for further
administrative proceedings and defendant had almost five years in which to conduct
such additional proceedings and produced the administrative record lodged at
docket 35, it does not appear that any useful purpose would be served by any additional
administrative proceedings. Moreover, plaintiff has already waited almost ten years for
her disability determination, and any additional proceedings would only further delay her
receipt of benefits.
Because defendant has conceded that the ALJ’s decision denying plaintiff’s
application for disability benefits is not supported by substantial evidence nor free of
legal error and should therefore be reversed, the court reverses the ALJ’s decision
denying benefits and finds that plaintiff was disabled throughout the relevant period.30
In addition, because the court finds that no useful purpose would be served by further
administrative proceedings and plaintiff has already waited almost ten years for a final
decision on her application for benefits, the court exercises its discretion to remand this
matter to the ALJ for the payment of benefits.
Doc. 44 at 2.
Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1292.
For the reasons set out above, defendant’s motion to remand at docket 34 is
GRANTED IN PART, and this case is REMANDED to the ALJ for the payment of
DATED at Anchorage, Alaska, this 5th day of June 2006.
JOHN W. SEDWICK
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
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