United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
JAMES S. LEGORE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
George J. Wall, Portland, Oregon, Attorney for Plaintiff.
S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, District of Oregon, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon, Courtney Garcia, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
GARR M. KING, District Judge.
Plaintiff James S. Legore brings this action pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner denying plaintiff's application for supplemental security income benefits ("SSI"). I reverse the decision of the Commissioner and remand for further proceedings.
The Social Security Act (the "Act") provides for payment of disability insurance benefits to people who have contributed to the Social Security program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). In addition, under the Act, supplemental security income benefits may be available to individuals who are age 65 or over, blind, or disabled, but who do not have insured status under the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a).
The claimant must demonstrate an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to cause death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if his physical or mental impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is eligible for either DIB or SSI due to disability. The evaluation is carried out by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The claimant has the burden of proof on the first four steps. Parra v. Astrue , 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. First, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If the claimant is engaged in such activity, disability benefits are denied. Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. A severe impairment is one "which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, disability benefits are denied.
If the impairment is severe, the ALJ proceeds to the third step to determine whether the impairment is equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one that is presumed to be disabling, the ALJ proceeds to the fourth step to determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work which the claimant performed in the past. If the claimant is able to perform work she performed in the past, the ALJ makes a finding of "not disabled" and disability benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
If the claimant is unable to perform work performed in the past, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step to determine if the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in light of his age, education, and work experience. The burden shifts to the Commissioner to show what gainful work activities are within the claimant's capabilities. Parra , 481 F.3d at 746. The claimant is entitled to disability benefits only if he is unable to perform other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court must affirm a denial of benefits if the denial is supported by substantial evidence and is based on correct legal standards. Molina v. Astrue , 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion" and is more than a "mere scintilla" of the evidence but less than a preponderance. Id . (internal quotation omitted). The court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they "are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record[, ]" even if the evidence is susceptible to multiple rational interpretations. Id.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
The ALJ found Legore had severe impairments of a back disorder, learning disorder, and organic mental disorder. The ALJ also found that these impairments, either singly or in combination, were not severe enough to meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. After reviewing the record, the ALJ found Legore had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work except he is only able to remember, understand, and carry out instructions and tasks which are generally required by occupations with a Specific Vocational Preparation ("SVP") level of 1-2. Based on vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found Legore could perform his past work as a general assembler of truck vehicles or a power operator-bolt tightener. As an alternative finding, the ALJ continued to step five and, referring to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, found Legore had the capacity to perform substantially all of the medium unskilled occupations. Based on either analysis, the ALJ found Legore was not disabled under the Act.
Legore alleges he became disabled on December 8, 2010, when he was 42 years old, due to back pain, pain and numbness in his hands and wrists, leg pain, headaches, and mental impairments, including a learning disorder affecting his ability to read. He only attended high school for a year before dropping out, and he claims to be functionally illiterate. Legore worked as a diesel mechanic and equipment maintenance person at a carnival and later assembled trucks at Freightliner for seven years. He has not worked since Freightliner laid him off in 2001, and has been homeless since 2010.
After becoming homeless, Legore's days are filled with finding meals, panhandling, finding shelter for the evening, and helping with cleaning tasks at shelters. He is unable to read or write and completed his SSI application forms by interview. Legore complains of memory problems and has had difficulties following through on medical appointments.
I. Medical ...