United States District Court, D. Oregon
SUZANNE E. SUTHERLAND, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
STOLZBERG, Attorney for Plaintiff.
J, WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon JANICE
E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney.
L. BECIA Special Assistant United States Attorney, Attorneys
OPINION AND ORDER
MALCOLM F. MARSH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Judge Plaintiff Suzanne E. Sutherland seeks judicial review
of the partially favorable decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying her application for disability
insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403. This
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons that follow, I reverse
the Commissioner's decision concerning Plaintiffs DIB
application and remand for an immediate calculation and award
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
December 19, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance ("DIB") benefits. On February 17, 2012,
Plaintiff protectively filed a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. In
those applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning
December 31, 2003. On April 16, 2013, Plaintiff protectively
filed a Title II application for disabled widow's
benefits, alleging disability beginning Februaiy 28, 2008.
All of Plaintiffs claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing
before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ
held a hearing on July 2, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared
with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Paul K.
Morrison, also appeared at the hearing and testified. At the
hearing, Plaintiff amended the alleged onset of disability
date to January 1, 2010.
31, 2014, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision,
finding that Plaintiff became disabled on February 17, 2012
at step three (meeting Listing 12.06 for Anxiety Related
Disorders), and therefore was entitled to SSI and disabled
widow's benefits. However, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
was not entitled to DIB benefits because she did not have any
severe impairments at step two prior to her date last
insured. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for
review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.
Plaintiff appeals the unfavorable DIB portion of the
ALJ's decision in this action.
has a long history of domestic violence abuse. Plaintiff
described long-term exposure to abuse from her ex-husband, to
whom she was married for 17 years. Plaintiff was severely
abused in her next relationship by her then boyfriend, who
she alleges continued to stalk, rape and attempted to murder
her after she ended that relationship in 2006. Social
Security Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 59-60,
ECF No. 12. Plaintiff has not been employed full-time since
2002, and last attempted working in 2008. Tr. 258. In 2011,
Plaintiff began seeking counseling and treatment to deal with
the consequences of her abuse from the Domestic Violence
Resource Center and the Sexual Assault Resource Center. Tr.
2013, Plaintiff was hospitalized for a suicide attempt by
overdose, then enrolled in an Intensive Outpatient Behavioral
Health treatment program. Tr. 1080, 1085-92. Plaintiff
continues to experience PTSD, and has severe depression and
anxiety with suicidal ideation. Tr. 1080; 1150.
was 47 years old on her amended alleged onset of disability
date, and 51 years old at the July 2014 hearing. Plaintiff
has completed high school. Plaintiff has past relevant work
as a travel agent, a customer service representative at call
centers, and a collections agent.
ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. Each step is potentially
dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps
one through four. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104,
1110 (9th Cir. 2012); Valentine v. Commissioner Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). At step five,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the
claimant can do other work that exists in the national
economy. Hill v. Astrne, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th
ALJ, found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
for a DIB application through September 30, 2010. At step
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged onset
date, January 1, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that prior
to February 17, 2012, Plaintiff had the following medically
determinable impairments: anxiety disorder, diabetes
mellitus, and basal cell carcinoma. However, the ALJ
concluded that these impairments or combination of
impairments did not significantly limit Plaintiffs ability to
perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive
months. Consequently, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did
not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments
prior to February 17, 2012. However, the ALJ found that
beginning February 17, 2012, Plaintiffs PTSD and depression
are severe impairments at step two.
three, the ALJ found that since February 17, 2012, Plaintiffs
PTSD and depression meet Listing 12.06. Thus, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to February
17, 2012, but became disabled on that date and continued to
be disabled through the date of the decision.
contends that the following errors were committed: (1) the
ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiffs anxiety and
depression severe prior to February 17, 2012; (2) the ALJ
erred in failing to call a medical expert under SSR 83-20 to
assess an onset date prior to February 17, 2012; (3) the ALJ
erred in assessing the medical opinion evidence; (4) the ALJ
erred in evaluating Plaintiffs credibility; and (5) the
ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence
in light of the opinion of Scott T. Alvord, Psy.D., rendered
on December 13, 2014, ...