United States District Court, D. Oregon
PAMELA M. BOBBITT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Merrill Schneider, SCHNEIDER KERR & GIBNEY LAW OFFICES, Portland, Oregon, Attorney for Plaintiff.
S. Amanda Marshall, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, District of Oregon, Ronald K. Silver, ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Portland, Oregon.
Jordan D. Goddard, SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER
MARCO A. HERNANDEZ, District Judge.
Plaintiff Pamela Bobbitt brings this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny disability insurance benefits (DIB). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I affirm the Commissioner's decision in part, reverse it in part, and remand for additional proceedings.
Plaintiff applied for DIB on December 22, 2009, alleging an onset date of September 28, 2008. Tr. 16, 145-46. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 95-99, 102-04.
On February 22, 2012, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 34-65. On March 2, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 13-33. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-6.
Plaintiff alleges disability based on Stevens Johnson disorder, diastolic heart failure, bipolar disorder, arthritis, sleep apnea, diabetes, diverticulitis, gall bladder problems, edema, and "other issues." Tr. 164. At the time of the hearing, she was forty-five years old. Tr. 38. She is a high school graduate with at least some college and has past relevant work experience as a sales representative, dispatcher, teacher's aide, and a cook/server. Tr. 27, 38, 60-61. Because the parties are familiar with the medical and other evidence of record, I refer to any additional relevant facts necessary to my decision in the discussion section below.
SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION
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), 1382c(3)(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 plaintiff's impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal "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 that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date through her date of last insured. Tr. 18. Next, at steps two and three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of obesity, edema of the legs, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse, but that the impairments did not meet or equal, either singly or in combination, a listed impairment. Tr. 18-20.
At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except she is limited to lifting and carrying 10 pounds frequently and occasionally, standing and walking for 2 hours in an 8hour workday, and sitting for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. Tr. 20. She can occasionally climb and can occasionally perform all other postural activities. Id . She can have no exposure to heights or hazards. Id . She is limited to simple, routine tasks, and can have only occasional inperson public contact. Id . With this RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. 27. However, at step five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff ...