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Rosario v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 30, 2015

CATHY ROSARIO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN V. ACOSTA, Magistrate Judge.

Cathy Rosario ("plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on a careful review of the record, the court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands it for further administrative proceedings.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff most recently applied for DIB on July 15, 2010, alleging disability as of March 16, 2002, due to rheumatoid arthritis in the lower back and depression. (Tr. 150, 168.) Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 70-77, 102-04.) A hearing was held on February 15, 2012, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 3-39.) On February 23, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 58-65.) Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's decision and, after the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. (Tr. 40-42.).

Factual Background

Born on July 29, 1962, plaintiff was 39 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 49 years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 4, 6, 150.) She graduated from high school and thereafter completed vocational school at Western Business College. (Tr. 7, 169). Plaintiff previously worked as a customer service representative, day care provider, and secretary. (Tr. 33-34, 169.)

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 (9th 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) (citation and internal quotations omitted). 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). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir.2007) (citation omitted).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir.1986). 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 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, 42 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity;" if so, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

At step two, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

At step three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed impairments that the Secretary acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the claimant is presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Id. at ...


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