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Navarro v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 18, 2015

LENA M. NAVARRO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Kathryn Tassinari, Mark A. Manning, Harder, Wells, Baron & Manning, P.C., Eugene, OR, Attorneys for plaintiff.

Billy Williams, Interim United States Attorney, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, Catherine Escobar, Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Council Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Lena Navarro 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") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for payment of benefits.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 8, 2010, plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI. Tr. 182, 186. After the applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 133. On March 14, 2012, an ALJ hearing was held before the Honorable Stuart Waxman; plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified therein; a vocational expert ("VE") also testified. Tr. 13-47. On April 2, 2012, ALJ Waxman issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 103-113. After the Appeals Council declined review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. Tr. 100-102.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Born on June 20, 1970, plaintiff was 34 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 41 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 13, 182, 186. Plaintiff dropped out of high school after completing the tenth grade. Tr. 15, 221. She previously worked as a gas station attendant, fast food worker, cook helper, administrative clerk, and residence leasing agent. Tr. 41-42. Plaintiff alleges she became disabled on September 1, 2004 due to degenerative disc disease, neuropathy, severe back arthritis, shoulder bursitis, depression, weight gain, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome ("CTS"), pinched nerves in elbows, dyslexia, and chronic pain.

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 (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 (9th Cir. 1986).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th 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 disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the plaintiff can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). If plaintiff can work, she is not disabled. If she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the plaintiff can perform other work that exists in the national economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. ...


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