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Hall v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 4, 2014

EDWARD HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Edward Hall seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. This court has jurisdiction to review the Acting Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After reviewing the record, this court concludes that the Acting Commissioner's decision must be REVERSED and REMANDED for an award of benefits.

STANDARDS

To establish eligibility for benefits, a plaintiff has the burden of proving an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) "by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

First, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in SGA. If the claimant is so engaged, disability benefits are denied.

If not, the Commissioner proceeds to the second step and determines whether the claimant has a medical impairment that meets the regulatory definition of "severe." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). If the claimant lacks this kind of impairment, disability benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If at least some of the claimant's impairments are severe, the Commissioner proceeds to the third step to determine whether the impairment or impairments are equivalent to one or more impairments that the Commissioner has recognized to be so severe that they are presumed to preclude SGA. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). These are listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Listing of impairments or the Listings). The Listings describe impairments which qualify as severe enough to be construed as per se disabling. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525, 416.925; Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999).

The claimant has the burden of producing medical evidence that establishes all of the requisite medical findings for a listed impairment. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 683 (9th Cir. 2005); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987). If the claimant's condition meets or equals one in the Listing of impairments, the claimant is presumed conclusively to be disabled.

If the impairment is not one that is presumed to be disabling, the Commissioner determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is the most an individual can do in a work setting despite the total limiting effects of all his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1), and Social Security Ruling 96-8p.

The Commissioner then proceeds to the fourth step to determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from engaging in work that the claimant has performed in the past. If the claimant is able to perform his or her former work, a finding of "not disabled" is made and disability benefits are denied. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).

If the claimant is unable to perform work that he or she has performed in the past, the Commissioner proceeds to the fifth and final step and determines if the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in light of his or her RFC, age, education, and work experience.

In this five-step framework used by the Commissioner, the claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through four. Accordingly, the claimant bears the initial burden of establishing his or her disability.

At the fifth step, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given his or her RFC, age, education, and work experience. Gomez v. Chater, 74 F.3d 967, 970 (9th Cir. 1996).

If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is considered disabled for purposes of awarding benefits under the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)(1). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is deemed not disabled for purposes of ...


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