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Crum v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 23, 2017

DONALD L. CRUM, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Kathryn Tassinari Drew L. Johnson Drew L. Johnson, P.C. Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams Janice E. Hebert U.S. Attorney's Office District of Oregon Heather L. Griffith Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Donald Crum brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act and for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). The Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands this case for an immediate award of benefits.


         Plaintiff was born in 1962 and was 51 years old at the time of his administrative hearing. Tr. 78.[1] He earned a GED and has past work experience as a roofer, meat trimmer, and power shovel operator. Tr. 79-80, 95-96. Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits on September 20, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of September 17, 2011, due to lower-back and hip problems. Tr. 57, 190-94, 216. The Commissioner initially denied his application and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Tr. 129-151, 163. An administrative hearing was held on September 26, 2013, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marilyn S. Mauer. Tr. 76. On March 10, 2014, ALJ Mauer issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application. Tr. 57-67. Plaintiff's request for review of the decision was denied by the Appeals Counsel on November 24, 2015, making the ALJ's opinion the Commissioner's final decision that Plaintiff now challenges in this Court. Tr. 1-7.


         A claimant is disabled if he 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines 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), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's impairments, 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 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively 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, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.


         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 17, 2011. Tr. 59. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “severe degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with few clinical signs; osteoarthritis of the right knee with meniscal tear; and obesity.” Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of the listed impairments. Tr. 61.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following RFC:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. He can sit, stand, and walk each six hours in an eight our day, for a combined total of eight hours of activity. He requires the option to sit or stand at will while still performing essential tasks. He can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He can occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel. The Claimant can frequently balance. He must avoid exposure to vibration and he should have no more than occasional exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and large moving equipment.

Tr. 62. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. Tr. 65-66. At step five, the ALJ found that given Plaintiff's background and limitations, he could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy including ticket seller, cashier, and small products assembler. Tr. 66-67. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 67.


         A court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only when the Commissioner's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts consider the record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id.; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). “Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be affirmed.” Vasquez, 572 F.3d at 591 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also ...

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