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Long v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

June 26, 2015

THERESA ANN LONG, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JANICE M. STEWART, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Theresa Ann Long ("Long"), seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA"), 42 USC §§ 401-33, and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the SSA, 42 USC §§ 1381-83f. This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 USC § 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 FRCP 73 and 28 USC § 636(c) (docket #5). For the reasons set forth below, that decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for an immediate award of benefits.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Long protectively filed for DIB and SSI on September 3, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of May 2, 2010. Tr. 106, 243-53.[1] Long filed as a disabled widow.[2] Tr. 15. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 167-81, 186-95. On June 7, 2012, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") James Yellowtail conducted a hearing by videoconference. Tr. 64-105. The ALJ issued a decision on June 29, 2012, finding Long not disabled. Tr. 15-24. The Appeals Council denied a request for review on November 22, 2013. Tr. 1-4. The ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this court. 20 CFR §§ 404.981, 416.1481, 422.210.

BACKGROUND

Born in 1955, Long was 57 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. Tr. 73-74. She has a high school diploma and completed a year and a half of community college. Tr. 74. Her past relevant work experience includes work as customer service representative, telephone call center worker (Tr. 76, 94) and as a receptionist with some accounting and data entry duties (Tr. 94-95). Long alleges that after breaking her left wrist in a fall, she stopped working on May 2, 2010, due to the combined impairments of a fractured left wrist with malunion after healing, osteoporosis, and degenerative arthritis presenting as left shoulder adhesive capsulitis and associated pain. Tr. 18, 265.

DISABILITY ANALYSIS

Disability is the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 USC § 423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir 1999).

At step one, the ALJ determines if the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not disabled. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) & (b), 416.920(a)(4)(i) & (b).

At step two, the ALJ determines if the claimant has "a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that meets the 12-month durational requirement. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) & (c), 416.909, 416.920(a)(4)(ii) & (c). Absent a severe impairment, the claimant is not disabled. Id.

At step three, the ALJ determines whether the severe impairment meets or equals an impairment "listed" in the regulations. 20 CFR § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) & (d), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) & (d); 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 ("Listing of Impairments"). If the impairment is determined to meet or equal a listed impairment, then the claimant is disabled.

If adjudication proceeds beyond step three, the ALJ must first evaluate medical and other relevant evidence in assessing the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The claimant's RFC is an assessment of work-related activities the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite the limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e); Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 (July 2, 1996).

At step four, the ALJ uses the RFC to determine if the claimant can perform past relevant work. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) & (e), 416.920(a)(4)(iv) & (e).

If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, then at step five, the ALJ must determine if the claimant can perform other work in the national economy. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & (g), 416.920(a)(4)(v) & (g); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 142 (1987); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.

The Social Security regulations include Medical-Vocational guidelines, designed to improve the uniformity and efficiency of step five disability decisions by relieving the Commissioner of the "need to rely on vocational experts by establishing through rulemaking the types and numbers of jobs that exist in the national economy." Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 461 (1983). These "grids" "consist of a matrix of... factors identified by Congress - physical ability, age, education, and work experience - and set forth rules that identify whether jobs requiring specific combinations of these factors exist in the national economy. Where a claimant's qualifications correspond to the job requirements identified by a rule, the guidelines direct a conclusion as to whether work exists that the claimant could perform." Id at 461-62 (footnotes omitted).

The initial burden of establishing disability rests upon the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. If the process reaches step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that jobs exist in the national economy within the claimant's RFC. Id. If the Commissioner meets this burden, then the claimant is ...


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