United States District Court, D. Oregon
Bruce W. Brewer, West Linn, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.
S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon, Jordan Goddard, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Brian Brattin brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act") to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
On April 28, 2005, plaintiff applied for DIB. Tr. 53-57. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 23-27, 31-33. On June 2, 2009, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 529-53. On June 30, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 339-51. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 327-29.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Born on April 13, 1957, plaintiff was 47 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 52 years old at the time of the 2009 hearing. Tr. 349, 359. He completed high school, served in the U.S. Military for ten years, and previously worked as a truck driver. Tr. 96, 98. Plaintiff initially alleged ongoing disability as of October 10, 2004, due to back pain. Tr. 342. On June 2, 2009, he amended his application, requesting a closed period of disability from October 10, 2004, through October 31, 2008. Tr. 339, 532.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court must affirm if the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and findings supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen , 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler , 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massahi v. Astrue , 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation and internal quotations omitted).
The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler , 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d) (1) (A).
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. First, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantially gainful activity;" if so, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
At step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.
At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful employment." Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the claimant is ...