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Hayles v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

December 2, 2014

SCHLETTA HAYLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Schletta Hayles seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her 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 further proceedings.

STANDARDS

A claimant is considered "disabled" under the Social Security Act if: (I) he or she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) "by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, " and (2) the impairment is "of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Hill v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 1144, 1149-50 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999)); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(l)(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(a), 416.920(a). In steps one through four, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant (1) has not engaged in SGA since his or her alleged disability onset date; (2) suffers from severe physical or mental impairments; (3) has severe impairments that meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments that automatically qualify as disabilities under the Social Security Act; and (4) has a residual functional capacity (RFC) that prevents the claimant from performing his or her past relevant work. Id. An RFC 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)(l), 416.945(a)(l), and Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps to establish his or her disability.

At the fifth step, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that jobs exist in a significant number in the national economy that the claimant can perform given his or her RFC, age, education, and work experience. Gomez v. Chafer, 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. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f)(1), 416.920(a). On the other hand, if the Commissioner can meet its burden, the claimant is deemed to be not disabled for purposes of determining benefits eligibility. Id.

The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is based on the proper legal standards and its findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

When reviewing the decision, the court must weigh all of the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. The Commissioner, not the reviewing court, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and the Commissioner's decision must be upheld in instances where the evidence supports either outcome. Reddick v. Chafer, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998). If, however, the Commissioner did not apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and making the decision, the decision must be set aside. Id. at 720.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was born in 1959 and was fifty years old at the time of her application. She continued her education past the eighth grade and later earned a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. She has worked as a delivery driver and jewelry production assembler. Plaintiff protectively filed her application for SSI on April 20, 2010, alleging that she has been disabled since June 29, 2007. The claim was denied initially on June 30, 2010, and upon reconsideration on November 4, 2010. At plaintiffs request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on July 19, 2012. The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as an independent vocational expert (VE).

On July 27, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. At step one of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in SGA since April 20, 2010, the date of her application. Tr. 14, Finding 1.[1]At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from the following medically determinable severe impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Tr. 14, Finding 2. After considering plaintiffs severe and non-severe impairments, the ALJ determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 15, Finding 3. After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: she can understand and complete simple routine instruction and work tasks; she can have only occasional superficial interactions with coworkers and the public; and she can sustain appropriate supervisory contact. Tr. 16. Based on plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that plaintiff is capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as laundry worker, budder, and janitor. Tr. 20. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 20.

On July 25, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Acting Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action seeking judicial review.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision to deny her application was not based on substantial evidence for several reasons: (1) the ALJ erred in discrediting plaintiffs testimony; (2) the ALJ ened in discrediting the opinion of Dr. Hughley; (3) the ALJ erred in failing to address the opinion of Dr. Beckwith; (4) the ALJ ened in discrediting lay testimony; and (5) the Acting Commissioner failed to meet her burden in proving that plaintiff ...


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