United States District Court, D. Oregon
VERONICA S. JONES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Merrill Schneider Schneider Kerr Law Offices Attorney for
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
JELDERKS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ assessed
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). He found Plaintiff retained the capacity
[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