United States District Court, D. Oregon
Merrill Schneider, Schneider Kerr & Gibney Law Offices, Portland, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.
Adrian L. Brown, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon, Portland, OR.
Lisa Goldoftas, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER
MARCO A. HERNANDEZ, District Judge.
Plaintiff Laticia Anderson brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. I have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). For the following reasons, I reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for additional proceedings.
Plaintiff was born in 1975 (Tr. 210) and was 27 years old at the alleged onset of disability. She completed the eighth grade (Tr. 250) and reports past work as a grocery bagger, care giver, cashier, cook, housekeeper, laborer, and packer (Tr. 246). Plaintiff alleged disability since August 8, 2002 (Tr. 210) due to back pain, arthritis in her legs, and numbness in her arms. Tr. 245.
The Commissioner denied her application initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 79-82), and an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on May 29, 2009. Tr. 15. The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled on October 21, 2009. Tr. 83. The Appeals Council remanded the matter on February 15, 2011, directing the ALJ to consider Plaintiff's obesity, consider Plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity, obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of Plaintiff's limitations on the occupational base, and consider Plaintiff's drug addiction and or alcoholism if she is found disabled. Tr. 96-97. An ALJ held a second hearing on May 6, 2011. Tr. 47. The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled on May 25, 2011. Tr. 29. The Appeals Council declined review of the matter on November 29, 2012, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3.
SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS
A claimant is disabled if unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which... has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.
In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). In step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.
In step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
In step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves ...