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Cobat v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 22, 2015

JAMIE COBAT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER

MARK D. CLARKE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jamie Cobat ("Plaintiff') seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Disability ("SSD") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI) under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on February 4, 1966, and was 43 years old at the time of alleged onset date. Tr. 22. She has a tenth-grade education and is able to communicate in English. Tr. 193, 22. She has past relevant work experience as a janitor and a house cleaner. Tr. 22. On April 15, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income. Tr. 10. She alleges disability beginning October 1, 2009, based on fibromyalgia, a nerve condition in her back, migraines, pain, numbness in her leg, PTSD, a hiatal hernia, and thyroid problems. Tr. 192. Plaintiff is insured through December 31, 2015. Tr. 10.

These claims were initially denied on June 5, 2010, and denied upon reconsideration on October 21, 2010. Tr.10. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on October 29, 2010. Tr. 10. The hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 8, 2012, Tr. 12, and the ALJ issued his unfavorable decision on April 4, 2012, Tr. 7. On August 15, 2013 the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's denial the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1. This timely appeal followed.

DISABILITY ANALYSIS

A claimant is disabled if he or she is 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). "Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential process asks the following series of questions:

1. Is the claimant performing "substantial gainful activity?" 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510; 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment "severe" under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Unless expected to result in death, an impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a); 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509; 416.909. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment "meet or equal" one or more of the impairments listed in 20 C.P.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.P.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds beyond step three. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RPC"). This is an assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.P.R. §§ 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 416.920(e); 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her "past relevant work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.P.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.P.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v); 404.1560(c); 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such work, he or she is disabled. Id.

See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 P.3d 949, 954(9th Cir. 2001).

The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. ld. at 953. The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. At step five, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, "taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 P.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999); see also 20 C.P.R. §§ 404.1566; 416.966 (describing "work which exists in the national economy"). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.P.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante, 262 P.3d at 953-54; Tackett, 180 P.3d at 1099.

THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

Applying the five-step analysis, the ALJ found:

1. Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2009, the alleged onset date.
2. Plaintiff has the following medically determinable impairments: Chronic pain/fibromyalgia and anxiety not otherwise specified. Tr. 12.
3. Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
4. Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work as a janitor or a house cleaner. (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
5. Based on the Plaintiffs age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity (as found by the ALJ, and detailed on page 5 of his decision. Tr. 14.), there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can ...

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