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Coryell v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 30, 2014

ELIZABETH R. CORYELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN A. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Arthur W. Stevens, III Black Chapman Webber & Stevens Medford, OR Attorney for Plaintiff

S. Amanda Marshall, U.S. Attorney Adrian L. Brown, Asst. U.S. Attorney Portland, OR Heather Griffith Special Asst. U.S. Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Seattle, WA Attorneys for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN JELDERKS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Elizabeth Coryell brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act (the Act). Plaintiff seeks an Order remanding the action to the Social Security Administration (the Agency) for an award of benefits. In the alternative, Plaintiff seeks an Order remanding the action to the Agency for further proceedings.

For the reasons set out below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on January 26, 2007, alleging she had been disabled since March 9, 1992.

After her claims had been denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff timely requested an administrative hearing.

On August 3, 2009, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John J. Madden, Jr. Plaintiff; Plaintiff's husband, David Coryell, and Frances Summers, a Vocational Expert (VE), testified at the hearing.

In a decision dated August 3, 2009, ALJ Madden found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time between her alleged onset date through her date last insured. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which granted the request, vacated the ALJ's hearing decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. In its remand order, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to:

• Further consider the claimant's maximum [RFC] and provide appropriate rationale with specific references to evidence of record in support of the assessed limitations... In so doing, consider the treating source opinions pursuant to the provisions of 20 CFR 404.1527 and [SSR] 96-2p, and explain the weight given to such opinion evidence.
• Further, if necessary, obtain evidence from a medical expert to clarify... the nature and severity of the claimant's impairments given the remoteness of the period at issue....
• Further consider the mental and physical requirements of the claimant's past relevant work. If the claimant is precluded from performing her past relevant work, then the [ALJ] will continue the sequential evaluation process.
• If warranted by the expanded record, obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base....

(Tr. 122)

After remand, hearings were held before ALJ Madden on August 10, 2011 and November 29, 2011. Plaintiff and medical expert Ronald M. Klein, Ph.D. testified at the hearing.

On December 5, 2011, ALJ Madden issued a decision finding that Plaintiff had not been disabled at any time from her alleged onset date through her date last insured. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on November 6, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. In the present action, Plaintiff challenges that decision.

Disability Analysis

The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Below is a summary of the five steps, which also are described in Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

Step One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A claimant engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under Step Two. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

Step Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not have such an impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under Step Three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).

Step Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines whether the claimant's impairment "meets or equals" one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has such an impairment is disabled. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an impairment listed in the regulations, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under Step Four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

Step Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to perform relevant work he or she has done in the past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do work performed in the past, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under Step Five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

Step Five. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds that the claimant is able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can do. The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a vocational expert (VE) or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can do, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does not meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).

At Steps One through Four, the burden of proof is on the claimant. Tackett , 180 F.3d at 1098. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform jobs that ...


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