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Irwin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 31, 2014

EILEEN F. IRWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Eileen Irwin brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiffs claim for Social Security Disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 416 and 423. Plaintiff seeks an Order reversing the decision of the Commissioner and remanding the action to the Social Security Administration for an award of benefits.

For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and remanded for a finding of disabled and for payment of benefits.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Ms. Eileen Irwin, tiled an application for SSDI benefits on 2/18/11 (Tr. 132-33). The application was denied, after which Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) of the Social Security Administration. On 8/23/12, after a hearing held before ALJ John Molleur, a decision was issued finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 9-19). Plaintiff timely requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision, but by letter dated 8/29/13, the Appeals Council declined to grant the request for review. (Tr. 1-6). This action resulted in the ALJ's 8/23/12 decision becoming the final order of the agency from which Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.

Plaintiff alleges disability beginning 12/12/09 (Tr. 31, 132) based on a combination of impairments, including intractable migraines, status-post acromioclavicular separation of the left shoulder, and degenerative disc disease at C4-5, CS-6, and C6-7 with tiny osteophytes and slight joint space loss. (Tr. 261). Plaintiff has suffered from daily unremitting headaches for years, with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, photophobia, phonophobia, and osmophobia. Virtually any activity could trigger a headache. (Tr. 405). Plaintiff tried multiple medications, physical therapy, biofeedback, and cognitive behavioral therapy. At times, Plaintiff has been bedridden and incapacitated from these headaches for up to six weeks at a time. (Tr. 48 and [#9 at p. 3]).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claimant is disabled if he or she is 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). "Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." Keyser v. Commissioner, 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). The five steps proceed as follows:

1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. If not, proceed to step two_. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).

2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the claimant is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).

3. Does the impairment "meet or equal" one or more of the specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is disabled. If not, proceed to step four. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).

4. Is the claimant able to do any work that he or she has done in the past? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

5. Is the claimant able to do any other work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

The claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps in the process. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987). The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five of the process, where the Commissioner must show the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, "taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566 (describing "work which exists in the national economy"). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled. If, however, the Commissioner ...


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