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Langwell v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 4, 2015

JACQUELINE G. LANGWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

FINDING AND RECOMMENDATION

JANICE M. STEWART, Magistrate Judge.

Jacqueline Langwell ("Langwell") seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 USC § 405(g). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

On January 21, 2011, Langwell protectively applied for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of March 15, 2008. Tr. 232-40.[1] Langwell also applied for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Tr. 227-29. However, Langwell now seeks to amend her onset date to December 30, 2010. Absent any objection by the Commissioner, that request is granted. Because Langwell's amended onset date is later than her date last insured (December 31, 2007), Langwell appeals only the Commissioner's denial of SSI benefits.

Langwell's SSI application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 107, 134. Langwell timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 157-62. On June 25, 2013, ALJ Jo Hoenninger held a hearing, at which Langwell, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. Tr. 41-71. On July 17, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Langwell not disabled. Tr. 20-33. After the Appeals Council declined her request for review (Tr. 8-11), Langwell filed this action.

BACKGROUND

Born in 1973, Langwell was 27 years old on her alleged disability onset date, as amended. Tr. 45, 232. She completed seventh grade and eventually earned a GED. Tr. 47, 259. She has past relevant work as a retail cashier, census taker, barista, delivery driver, bell-ringer, telemarketer, waitress, and gas station attendant. Tr. 48-53, 262. Langwell alleges she is unable to work due to lupus, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), severe depression, asthma, and migraines. Tr. 255.

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. Turner v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 613 F.2d 1217, 1222 n2 (9th Cir 2010) (citation omitted). "Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir 2014), quoting Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir 2007). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Id, quoting Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, ' the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment' for that of the Commissioner. Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir 2014), quoting Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir 1996).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir 2005). 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 USC § 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); Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir 2006); 20 CFR § 416.920(a)(4). First, the Commissioner considers whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 CFR § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 CFR § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, she 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 activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 CFR § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 CFR § 416.920(a)(4)(iv) & (e). If the claimant 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 demonstrate that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 CFR § 416.920(4)(a)(4)(v) & (g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 CFR § 416.920(a)(4)(v) & (g)(i).

ALJ'S FINDINGS

At step one, the ALJ found that Langwell had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ...


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