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Jones v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 13, 2017

VERONICA S. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Merrill Schneider Schneider Kerr Law Offices Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney Janice E. Hébert, Asst. U.S. Attorney Sarah Moum Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JOHN JELDERKS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Veronica Sue Jones (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1381a seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case remanded for immediate calculation and payment of benefits.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on July 25, 2011, alleging disability beginning March 3, 2006. Tr. 114, 222. At a prior hearing, Plaintiff was adjudged not disabled through November 13, 2009; accordingly, the alleged onset date for this appeal was amended to November 14, 2011. Tr. 21, 42. After Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was convened on September 23, 2013, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Riley Atkins. Tr. 40-62. The ALJ issued a decision on October 17, 2013 finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 19-32. The decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on February 2, 2015, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for review. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court for review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         Background

         Born September 15, 1963, Plaintiff was 46 years old on the initial alleged onset date. Tr. 115. Plaintiff is a high school graduate. Tr. 227. She has past relevant work as a switchboard operator, labeler/packager, certified nursing assistant, and call-center representative. Id. Plaintiff alleges disability due to asthma, fibromyalgia, back pain, osteoarthritis, knee pain, hand pain, sleep apnea, cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, “sciatic nerve”, and neuropathy. Tr. 115.

         Disability Analysis

         The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The five step sequential inquiry is summarized below, as described in Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Step One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step two. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).

         Step Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not have any such impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has one or more severe impairment(s), the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step three. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).

         Step Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines whether the claimant's impairment “meets or equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has an impairment that meets a listing is presumed disabled under the Act. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an impairment listed in the listings, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under step four. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).

         Step Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to perform work he or she has done in the past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do past relevant work, the Commissioner's evaluation of claimant's case proceeds under step five. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

         Step Five. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds claimant is able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that claimant is able to do. The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant is able to do, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does not meet the burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g)(1), 416.920(g)(1).

         At steps one through four of the sequential inquiry, the burden of proof is on the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

         The ALJ's Decision

         At the first step of the disability analysis, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2011, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, November 14, 2009. Tr. 13.

         At the second step, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees; lumbar degenerative joint disorder; obesity; carpal tunnel syndrome; status post-right carpal tunnel release; sleep apnea; gastroesophageal reflux disease; and asthma. Tr. 22. The ALJ additionally noted that Plaintiff's allegations of left hand issues were not substantiated by the record, and that her diabetes was well-controlled with medication. Tr. 22.

         At the third step, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a presumptively disabling impairment set out in the Listings, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Tr. 22-23.

         Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). He found Plaintiff retained the capacity to:

[P]erform sedentary work . . . except lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and walk for 2 hours in an 8 hour day; sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour day; occasionally climb, stoop, and crouch; and must avoid ...

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