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Nicholson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

May 5, 2015

AMANDA RENE NICHOLSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Nancy J. Meserow, Law Office of Nancy J. Meserow, Portland, OR, Attorney for plaintiff.

Billy J. Williams, Interim United States Attorney, District of Oregon, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR. L. Jamala Edwards, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel. Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Amanda Rene Nicholson brings this action for judicial review of a final decision for the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c) (3). For the reasons below, this case is reversed and remanded for immediate payments of benefits.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 14, 2010, plaintiff filed her application for SSI. Tr. 169. After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 112. On June 1, 2012, an ALJ hearing was held before the Honorable Joel B. Martinez; plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified therein. The ALJ also heard testimony from a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 31-74. The ALJ issued a decision on July 16, 2012 finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 16-24. After the Appeals Council declined review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. Tr. 12.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Born on May 17, 1981, plaintiff was 27 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 31 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 23, 31, 169. Plaintiff dropped out of high school upon completion of the eleventh grade and never attained a GED. Tr. 19, 22. She previously worked as an assembly-line quality inspector, dishwasher, and care giver. Tr. 192. In her application, plaintiff alleged disability beginning on December 7, 2008 due to bipolar disorder, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), epilepsy, headaches, and back pain. Tr. 190. Plaintiff further alleges disability due to borderline intellectual functioning, mental retardation, learning disability, severe anxiety disorder, and carpal tunnel syndrome ("CTS"). Pl.'s Opening Br. 10-16.

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 recrod. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (th 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 (th Cir. 1986).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the plaintiff 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 twelve 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. § 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a plaintiff is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If so, the plaintiff is not disabled.

At step two, the Commissioner determines whether the plaintiff has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). If not, the plaintiff is not disabled.

At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed impairments that... are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). If so, the plaintiff is conclusively presumed ...


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