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Thompson v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 4, 2014

HALLIE THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MERRILL SCHNEIDER, Portland, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney District of Oregon, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, JORDAN D. GODDARD Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MALCOLM F. MARSH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Hallie Thompson seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability insurance benefits (MB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons that follow, I reverse the decision of the Commissioner and remand this action for further proceedings.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On February 2, 2008, plaintiff was involved in a severe head-on motor vehicle accident, resulting in bilateral pilon ankle fractures. Plaintiff's fractures required open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) surgery in which the bones were reduced (put back into place) and then fixed into place with plates, pins and screws. Plaintiff was hospitalized for 17 days, then used a wheelchair for several months before undergoing physical therapy to walk with crutches. On February 17, 2009, after plaintiff's fractures healed, plaintiff underwent surgery to remove the hardware. Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on September 10, 2009, alleging disability due to her ankle fractures with residual arthritis, chronic pain, and depression.

Plaintiff's claims were denied initially. On reconsideration, plaintiff's application was approved for a closed period of disability from February 2, 2008 through March 31, 2009. Tr. 72. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). An ALJ held a hearing on August 30, 2011, at which plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Richard Hincks, also appeared and testified. On September 12, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

Plaintiff was 19 years old on her alleged disability onset date, and was 23 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff has a high school education and past relevant work as a cashier checker at a grocery store.

THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Each step is potentially diapositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Valentine v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin. , 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009); Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can do other work which exists in the national economy. Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1043 (9th Cir. 1995).

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2010. A claimant seeking DIB benefits under Title II must establish disability on or prior to the last date insured. 42 U.S.C. § 416(1)(3); Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset of disability. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fractures of both ankles with residual arthritis and chronic pain; depression; and prescription drug dependence. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, or combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. The ALJ assessed plaintiff with a residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of sedentary work, such that plaintiff can lift ten pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; she can stand and walk for not more than two hours a day; she can sit without limitation; she can occasionally operate foot controls; she can occasionally climb, kneel, crouch, and crawl; she should never balance; she should avoid exposure to hazardous machinery and unprotected heights; and she is limited to performing entry level work.

At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

ISSUES ON REVIEW

On appeal to this court, plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the opinion of her treating physician, L. Teresa Callahan, M.D.; (2) the ALJ improperly assessed plaintiff's credibility; and (3) the ALJ adopted representative occupations that exceed her RFC at Step Five.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. 405(g); Andrews , 53 F.3d at 1039. "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id .; Valentine , 574 F.3d at 690. The court must weigh all the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Martinez v. Heckler , 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's decision must be upheld, even if the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Batson v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin. , 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Andrews , 53 F.3d at 1039-40. If the ...


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