United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Michael Hartley brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
Both parties agree that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) committed reversible error. The issue before this Court is whether to remand for an award of benefits or for further administrative proceedings. Because the ALJ erred by failing to account for plaintiff's disability on September 30, 2011, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED for an award of benefits from September 30, 2011 onward. The record is not clear, however, as to plaintiff's residual functioning capacity (RFC) from the alleged onset date of disability, January 16, 2009, to September 30, 2011. Therefore, this matter is REMANDED under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to determine plaintiff's RFC from January 16, 2009 to September 30, 2011.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff applied for DIB on August 3, 2009, alleging disability since January 16, 2009. The ALJ issued a decision on June 7, 2012, and determined that plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 51.
Plaintiff was born in 1965 with a congenital absence of his left arm below the elbow. Tr. 177. Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed a Rogue Community College course in commercial truck driving. Tr. 186. Plaintiff worked medium to heavy construction-type jobs until he injured his shoulder in 2008. Tr. 44. Plaintiff worked most recently as a highway maintenance worker. Tr. 64.
Plaintiff alleges disability due to: congenital absence of his left arm below the elbow; lumbar spine degenerative disc disease; right arm and shoulder impairments; bilateral knee impairments; anxiety; depression; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; stomach problems; and pre-cancerous tissue in his esophagus. Tr. 177.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "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 v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).
The Social Security Administration utilizes a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If a claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id.
Plaintiff contends that: (1) he is disabled under the RFC articulated by the ALJ in the written decision; and (2), in the alternative, the ALJ improperly rejected physical and mental impairments in forming plaintiff's RFC.
I. The ALJ's RFC Calculation
Plaintiff argues that he is disabled under the RFC articulated by the ALJ in the written decision that limited plaintiff to sedentary work. Tr. 43. During the administrative hearing, however, the ALJ proposed two distinct RFC hypotheticals to the vocational expert (VE). Each RFC pertained to a different time period. The first RFC (RFC1) extended from the alleged onset date, January 16, 2009, to September 30, 2011. Tr. 81-82. In contrast, the second RFC (RFC2) extended from September 30, 2011 onward. Tr. 85-86. In the written decision, the ALJ adopted a slightly modified RFC2. Compare tr. 43, with tr. 85-86.
Plaintiff is disabled under the sedentary RFC2 calculation because the congenital absence of his lower left arm significantly erodes his occupational base. This Court cannot determine, however, if plaintiff is also disabled under the less restrictive RFC1. The ALJ did not adequately explain his RFC1 ...