United States District Court, D. Oregon
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For Plaintiff: PHYLLIS J. BURKE, Portland, OR.
For Defendant: S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, District of Oregon, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR; GERALD J. HILL, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA.
OPINION AND ORDER
Malcolm F. Marsh, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Kuestan Jalal Mahmood seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § § 1381-1383f. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons that follow, I reverse and remand for an immediate calculation and award of benefits.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on October 30, 2009, alleging disability beginning April 19, 2009, due to weakness, cough, and depression. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). An ALJ held a hearing on December 21, 2011, at which plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Amberly Ruck, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On January 5, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.
Born in 1968, plaintiff was 41 years old on the date of the ALJ's adverse decision. Plaintiff is an Iraqi-Kurdish woman who immigrated to the United States in 1997. Plaintiff speaks English as a second language. Plaintiff received a civil engineering degree in Iraq and an associate's degree in computer technology in the United States. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a caregiver, cashier, and grocery bagger.
THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS
The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520; 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Valentine v. Commissioner Soc. Sec, Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can do other work which exists in the national economy. Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).
The ALJ concluded that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2011. At step one, the ALJ found that
plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset of disability. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: a chronic cough, depression, gait ataxia, and anemia. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, or combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.
The ALJ assessed plaintiff with a residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a limited range of medium work in that plaintiff can lift 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; she can stand, walk, and sit for at least six hours in an eight hour day; she should not work at unprotected heights or around hazardous machinery; she should not be required to balance on narrow beams; she should avoid concentrated exposure to noxious fumes and odors; she is limited to occasional interaction with coworkers and the public; and she should not perform any work requiring verbal reports because of her limited English skills.
At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, such as a night cleaner and dishwasher/kitchen helper. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from October 20, 2009 through the date of the decision.
ISSUES ON REVIEW
On appeal to this court, plaintiff contends the ALJ committed the following errors: (1) failed to properly evaluate the opinions of treating physician J, Mark Kinzie, M.D., Ph.D., and examining physician Jill Giazewski, M.D.; (2) failed to properly evaluate plaintiff's testimony; (3) failed to include in the RFC environmental limitations described by nonexamining physicians Martin Kehrli, M.D., Richard Alley, M.D., and Paul Rethinger, Ph.D.; and (4) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the lay testimony of plaintiff's brother Aram Mahmood.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). " Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla' but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Hill, 698 F.3d at 1159 (internal quotations omitted); Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690. The court must weigh all the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Commissioner Soc. Sec, Admin., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008); Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir, 1986). The Commissioner's decision must be upheld, even if the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Batson v. Commissioner Soc. Sec, Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004), ...