United States District Court, D. Oregon
AUDREY L. COLCORD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For Plaintiff: JAMES W. MOLLER, Portland, OR.
For Defendant: S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, District of Oregon, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR; L. JAMALA EDWARDS, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA.
OPINION AND ORDER
Malcolm F. Marsh, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Audrey Colcord seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § § 401-403, and 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). For the reasons tat follow, I reverse and remand for an immediate calculation and award of benefits.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI on December 17, 2009, alleging disability beginning September 3, 2006, due to depression, psychosis, anxiety disorder, insomnia, and schizophrenia. Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements for a DIB application on March 31, 2007.
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 April 26, 2012, at which plaintiff's attorney appeared and testified. Plaintiff did not attend the hearing. A vocational expert, Jay Stutz, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On June 26, 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 1973, plaintiff was 38 years old on the date of the ALJ's adverse decision. Plaintiff has a college degree. Plaintiff's past relevant work includes audiovisual technician, movie theater attendant, and photographer.
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. § 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. 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).
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: schizophrenia, paranoid type; schizoid or avoidant personality traits. 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 full range of work at all exertional levels as defined in 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1567, 416.967 with several additional non-exertional work limitations. Plaintiff is limited to work with no public contact, occasional and superficial co-worker contact, and would need a break every two hours in order to maintain appropriate focus and concentration on tasks. Plaintiff is able to only apply commonsense understanding to carry out detailed but uninvolved written or oral instructions or deal with problems involving a few concrete variables in or from standardized situations (reasoning level 2).
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 janitor, automobile detailer, and budder. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from September 3, 2006, through the date of the decision.
ISSUES ON REVIEW
On appeal to this court, plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) failed to properly evaluate the opinions of treating physician, Paul Helms, M.D.; and (2) improperly found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal Listing 12.03.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied the, 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. 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). If the evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusion, the Commissioner must be affirmed; " the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
I. The ALJ Erred in Evaluating Treating Physician's Opinion
In general, the opinion of a treating physician is given more weight than the opinion of an examining physician, and the opinion of an examining physician is afforded more weight than the opinion of a nonexamining physician. Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1160 (9th Cir. 2014); Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. ...