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Butler v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 19, 2014

STEVEN G. BUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Steven Butler claims that due to his health, he is entitled to receive Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act covering from December 1, 2005 until March 31, 2008, his date last insured ("DLI"). (Tr. 163, 314; 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33.) Mr. Butler's claim was initially rejected on May 24, 2010, but the Appeals Council granted his request for review and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. (Tr. 163-71, 180-84.) On January 25, 2013, after further review, the ALJ issued another decision finding that Mr. Butler was not disabled in the relevant time period, and therefore denied his application for DIB. (Tr. 35-51.) On June 4, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Butler's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

Mr. Butler seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner in which she denied Mr. Butler's application for DIB. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Mr. Butler claims the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by: (1) improperly weighing and evaluating several medical opinions, (2) finding that Mr. Butler lacked credibility, and (3) determining that Mr. Butler has a greater residual functioning capacity ("RFC") than he really has. I find that an important portion of the ALJ's RFC determination appears to lack support in the record; therefore, this Court REMANDS the decision of the Commissioner for further consideration or clarification.

ISSUES PRESENTED

The Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. In Step One, the claimant is not considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. See Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). The ALJ found that Mr. Butler has not been engaged in a substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2005. (Tr. 38.) This is not in dispute.

In Step Two, the claimant is not considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant has no "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). The ALJ found that although Mr. Butler has a number of medically determinable impairments, no single impairment or combination of impairments significantly limited his ability to perform basic work related activities, and therefore he was not disabled as defined by the statute. (Tr. 38; 20 CFR § 404.1521.) Mr. Butler contends that the ALJ improperly weighed and evaluated the available medical evidence in making this determination. (Pl.'s Motion [25] at 1-2.)

In Step Three, the claimant is considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments 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 141; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). The criteria for the listed impairments, known as "Listings, " are enumerated in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (Listing of Impairments). The ALJ found that Mr. Butler's impairments did not meet or were not medically equivalent to any of the impairments on the Listings. Tr. 40-41. Mr. Butler again argues that the ALJ improperly weighed and evaluated the available medical evidence in making this determination. (Pl.'s Motion [25] at 2-3.)

If the Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the claimant's RFC. The claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained, work-related activities the claimant can still do on a regular and continuing basis despite his limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a); see also SSAR 96-8, 61 Fed.Reg. 128 (July 2, 1996). The ALJ determined that through his DLI, Mr. Butler had the RFC:

to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he is limited to moderate noise intensity level as defined by the SCO;[1] he has sufficient concentration to understand, remember and carryout simple repetitive tasks and complex tasks; he can work frequently and superficially with the general public; he can work in proximity to an unlimited number of coworkers but not in coordination with them.

(Tr. 42.)

In Step Four, the claimant is not considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's RFC enables him to perform work he has done in the past. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that Mr. Butler was not capable of performing past relevant work. This is not disputed.

If the Commissioner reaches Step Five, she must determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work that exists in the national economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e), (f). Here the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can do. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5; s ee also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE") or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines set forth in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2. If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). After consideration of the entire record, which included the testimony of a VE, the ALJ found that Mr. Butler had acquired work skills from past relevant work that were transferable to other occupations with jobs existing in significant number in the national economy, for example the occupation of electronics technician. (Tr. 49-50.) Mr. Butler contests this finding, arguing that there are not currently any jobs that he could perform in the national economy because the training and experience that he once had is now antiquated. (Pl.s Reply [27] at 8.)

The district 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 as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence means 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." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Flaten v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Martinez v. ...


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