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Bramble v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 26, 2014

SCOTT B. BRAMBLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Max Rae, Salem, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, Ronald K. Silver, United States Attorneys Office, Portland, Oregon, Lars J. Nelson, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Scott Bramble brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act") to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications for Title II disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In July 2009, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. Tr. 17, 74-75. His applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 76, 108. On January 31, 2012, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 30-72. On J:vlarch 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 14-24. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-4.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Born on August 17, 1970, plaintiff was 36 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 41 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 35, 78. Plaintiff graduated from high school, attended some college, and obtained licenses to sell health insurance and prepare tax forms. Tr. 35, 217. He was previously employed as a delivery driver, office specialist, and prep cook. Tr. 196. Plaintiff alleges disability as of February 15, 2007, due to migraine headaches, back pain, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), neurological disorder, obesity, diabetes, and memory loss. Tr. 77, 107.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen , 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989) Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler , 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue , 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler , 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, plaintiff 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 last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

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. §§ 404.1502, 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).

At 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 the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.

At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either 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 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is ...


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