United States District Court, D. Oregon
TROY L. MEZA, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
RICHARD F. McGINTY P.O. Box 12806 Salem, OR 97309 Attorney
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon, JANICE
E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney, LARS J. NELSON
Special Assistant United States Attorneys Attorneys for
OPINION AND ORDER
Malcolm F. Marsh United States District Judge
Troy L. Meza seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403, and application for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability
benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. This Court has jurisdiction
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For
the reasons that follow, I affirm the Commissioner's
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
November 12, 2009, Plaintiff protectively filed for SSI
disability benefits. On November 16, 2009, Plaintiff
protectively filed for DIB benefits. In both applications
Plaintiff alleged disability beginning May 18, 2001.
Plaintiff s claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing
before an administrative law judge ("ALJ").
Plaintiff received an unfavorable decision from ALJ Richard
Say on November 4, 2011. Plaintiff submitted new evidence to
the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiffs request for review. Plaintiff appealed to the
District Court and the case was remanded to consider the new
evidence, reconsider Plaintiffs RFC, and reconsider the
hypothetical posed to the VE.
remand, ALJ Dan R. Hyatt held a hearing on October 1, 2014.
After the hearing, a Cooperative Disability Investigation
Unit ("CDIU") fraud investigation was performed.
Plaintiffs case was then assigned to ALJ Steve Lynch due to
ALJ Hyatt's retirement. ALJ Lynch conducted a hearing on
May 4, 2015 and ordered a consultative examination. Tr. 280,
519, 540. On July 30, 2015, ALJ Lynch conducted a
supplemental hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with his
attorney and testified. Special Agent Steve Armbruster with
CDIU, David Davis, Plaintiffs parole officer, and Paul
Morrison, a Vocational Expert, also testified at the July 30,
2015 hearing. On August 28, 2015, ALJ Lynch issued an
unfavorable decision. Tr. 258, The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiffs request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's
August 2015 decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner for purposes of review.
was born on May 16, 1975, and was 26 years old on the alleged
onset of disability date. Plaintiff completed high school and
has worked at various jobs, but his earnings did not rise to
the level of substantial gainful activity.
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. §
416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant
bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See
Valentine v. Comm 'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685,
689 (9th Cir. 2009); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d
1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). At step five, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can do other
work which exists in the national economy. Hill v.
As'true, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2005, At step one, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset of disability. At step two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
learning disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder ("ADHD"). At step three, the ALJ found
that Plaintiffs impairments, or combination of impairments,
did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.
assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional
limitations: Plaintiff has limited reading, writing, and math
skills; he is limited to unskilled work and routine tasks
involving superficial interaction with the public and
co-workers but no close cooperation or coordination; and he
should not perform fast-paced work.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work.
At step five, the ALJ found that considering Plaintiffs age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity,
jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff can perform, such as cleaner, janitor, and
scrap sorter. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act
from May 18, 2001 through the date of the decision.
appeal to this court, Plaintiff contends the following errors
were committed: (1) the ALJ took actions beyond the scope of
Judge Mosman's remand order; and (2) the RFC fails to
encompass all of his functional limitations. The Commissioner
responds that the ALJ did not err, or alternatively, that
Plaintiff has not demonstrated harmful error,
STANDARD OF REVIEW
District Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d
1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is
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." Hill, 698
F.3d at 1159 (internal quotations omitted);
Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690. The court must weigh all
the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the
Commissioner's decision. Garrison v. Colvin, 759
F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014); Martinez v. Heckler,
807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's
decision must be upheld, even if the evidence is susceptible
to more than one rational interpretation, Bat son v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th
Cir. 2004). If the evidence supports the Commissioner's
conclusion, the Commissioner must be affirmed; "the
court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner." Edhindv. Massanari, 253 F, 3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir, 2001); Garrison, 759 F.3d at
The ALJs Did Not Violate the Law of the Case or Rule of
alleges that the ALJ took three actions that fell outside the
scope of the remand order: (1) ALJ Hyatt ordered the CDIU
report; (2) ALJ Lynch admitted and considered the CDIU report
and consultative examination performed by Paul S. Stoltzfus,
Psy.D.; and (3) the ALJ found Plaintiffs ADHD and learning
disorder severe impairments at step two. PI. Br. at 7-8, ECF
No. 14. Plaintiff contends the ALJ's actions in obtaining
new evidence and making new findings violate the rule of
mandate and law of the case doctrines.
support of his applications for SSI and DIB, Plaintiff did
not submit any medical evidence from his treating
providers. Tr, 17, Instead, Plaintiff submitted a
neuropsychological evaluation conducted by one-time examining
physician Paul E. Guastadisegni, Ph.D., dated September 15,
2009. Tr. 200-16. Dr. Guastadisegni diagnosed Plaintiff with
cognitive disorder not otherwise specified, depression not
otherwise specified, anxiety disorder not otherwise
specified, ADHD (combined type) and personality disorder not
otherwise specified with Cluster B traits. Tr. 216. Notably,
Dr. Guastadisegni opined that Plaintiff required a
"structured environment that has clear directions and
allows him to process and move at his own pace." Tr.
213. However, ALJ Say discounted much of Dr.
Guastadisegni's opinion and found that Plaintiff could
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with
some limitations, and therefore determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled. Tr. 16.
ALJ Say's unfavorable decision, Plaintiff was referred by
his attorney for a neuropsychological evaluation performed by
David M. Freed, Ph.D., dated April 4, 2012. Tr. 245,
Plaintiff submitted Dr. Freed's 2012 evaluation to the
Appeals Council. Tr. 4-5. That evaluation was made part of
the administrative record, but the Appeals Council declined
Plaintiffs request for review. Tr. 1-6.
appeal to the District Court, the Honorable Michael W. Mosman
remanded the case for the ALJ to consider Dr. Freed's
2012 neuropsychological evaluation. Tr. 355. Judge Mosman
Now, I'm not suggesting that therefore we know exactly
what to do with Dr. Freed's evaluation and that it should
be built into the RFC. I'm simply noting that 1 do find
now that this new evidence creates a problem for which remand
So I'm ordering remand to evaluate this new evidence.
It's kind of an unfortunate system where it happens this
way, but there we are. And specifically to determine if
anything in Dr. Freed's post-hearing evaluation,
including impulse control, in light of all the other evidence
in the case, merits amending the RFC and ...