United States District Court, D. Oregon
ARTHUR W. STEVENS III, Black, Chapman, Webber & Stevens, Medford, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiff.
S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, RONALD K. SILVER, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, LISA GOLDOFTAS, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
JOHN V. ACOSTA, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Miranda Lynn Paredes ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636 (e). For the reasons explained below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and the case is REMANDED for an immediate award of benefits.
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI on January 15, 2009. In her application, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning August 31, 2003, The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge John D. Moreen (the "ALJ") on January 17, 2012, and April 10, 2012. During the course of the hearing, Plaintiff's attorney amended the onset date to July 1, 2009, which the ALJ acknowledged on the record. (Tr. at 81). On April 25, 2012, the ALJ issued his decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled.
On May 25, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 20-21.) On July 2, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request for Review. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks review by this court of the ALJ's unfavorable decision.
Born in 1980, Plaintiff was 23 years old on her initial alleged onset date, and 29 years old on the amended alleged onset date. Plaintiff alleges disability due to post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, and arthritis. (Tr. 255.) Plaintiff speaks English, has a GED and one year of college, and past work experience as a customer service associate, medical assistant, patient registrar, and receiving clerk. (Tr. 33.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are 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) (quoting Consol Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). 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). "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." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation 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, 416.920, First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(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(e), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed impairments that the Secretary acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S, at 141.
At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Yuckert, 482 at 141. At step live, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Id. at 142; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets this burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
The ALJ engaged in the five-step "sequential evaluation" process when evaluating Plaintiff's disability as required by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a). At step one, the ALJ determined Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity during the periods of January 2005 to April 2010, but that there was a continuous twelve-month period thereafter during which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity. At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: "bipolar disorder not otherwise specified; anxiety disorder not otherwise specified; and alcohol abuse (rule out)." (Tr. 28) (citations to the record omitted).
At step three, the ALJ determined Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926. (Tr. 29). The ALJ concluded Plaintiff has mild restriction in activities of daily living and mild difficulties in social functioning, but moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 29-30.) The ALJ also found no evidence Plaintiff experienced any episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 30.)
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: she is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks with occasional contact with others." (Tr. 30).
At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is unable to perform past relevant work. At step five, however, the ALJ concluded that when considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, Plaintiff can perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 34.) The ...