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Steele v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 18, 2015

EDWARD C. STEELE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

KATHRYN TASSINARI, BRENT WELLS, Eugene, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, District of Oregon, ADRIAN L. BROWN, RONALD K. SILVER, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, SARAH L. MARTIN, Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MALCOLM F. MARSH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Edward C. Steele, Jr., seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C §§ 401-403, and application for 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) and 1383(c) (3). For the reasons that follow, I reverse and remand for further administrative proceedings.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 26, 2010, alleging disability beginning February 17, 2010, due to depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain disorder, varicocele and chronic epididymitis, pnuemonia with empyema, and enuresis.

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 August 16, 2012, at which plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Jeffrey F. Tittlefitz, also appeared at the January 5, 2012 hearing and testified. On September 13, 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 1979, plaintiff was 33 years old on the date of the ALJ's adverse decision. Plaintiff has a high school diploma and past relevant work as a feeder.

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 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See 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).

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2012. A claimant seeking DIB benefits under Title II must establish disability on or prior to the last date insured. 42 U.S.C. § 416(I) (3); Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset of disability. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: variocele/chronic epididymitis; pneumonia with empyema status post surgery; enuresis; depression; pain disorder; PTSD; methamphetamine dependence in remission; and cannabis dependence. 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 less than a full range of light work with lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; standing and walking about six hours of an eight hour workday and sitting about six hours of an eight hour workday; he can use the non-dominant right upper extremity for assist only during lifting due to residuals of chest surgery; he can understand, remember and carry out simple instructions that can be learned in 30 days or less with occasional supervisor and coworker contact and no group tasks, or public contact; he can perform low stress work with only occasional changes in the work setting and occasional decision making; he should work with objects and not data or people and with verbal rather than written instructions; he cannot perform written record keeping.

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 a packing line worker, small products assembler, or electronics worker. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from February 17, 2010, through the date of the decision.

ISSUES ON REVIEW

On appeal to this court, plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his testimony; (2) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the opinions of treating physician Robert Vandiver, M.D., and examining physician Gale Smolen, M.D.; and (3) the ALJ failed to ...


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