United States District Court, D. Oregon
YVONNE C. NELSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Sara L. Gabin, SARA L. GABIN, PC, Lake Oswego, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.
Billy J. Williams, Acting United States Attorney, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, DISTRICT OF OREGON, Portland, OR, John C. LaMont, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER
MARCO A. HERNNDEZ, District Judge.
Plaintiff Yvonne Nelson brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Plaintiff applied for DIB on October 22, 2010, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2002. Tr. 144-150. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 52-75. On October 10, 2012, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 34-51. On October 31, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 20-28. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-6.
Plaintiff alleges disability based on: "COPD, congestive heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, chronic sinusitis, HBP, thyroid, gout, edema, chronic back pain, bleeding ulcer, and depression." Tr. 53, 171. Plaintiff was sixty-four years old at the time of the administrative hearing. Tr. 167. She completed high school. Tr. 172. She has past work experience as a dispatcher for a phone company and a credit department supervisor. Id.
Because the parties are familiar with the medical and other evidence in the record, the Court refers to any additional relevant facts in the discussion section below.
SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS
A claimant is disabled if unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which... has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See, e.g., Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.
In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). In step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.
In step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 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.
In step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2007. Tr. 22. Thus, Plaintiff must establish disability on or before that date (hereinafter "the date last insured") in order to be entitled to DIB. Id.
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2002, through her date last insured of December 31, 2007. Tr. 22. Next, at step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments through the date last insured: osteoarthritis, coronary artery disease, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, duodenal ulcer, hypothyroidism, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and chronic back pain. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that the impairments did not meet or equal, either singly or in combination, a listed impairment. Id. At step four, the ALJ concluded that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work. Tr. 25. ...