United States District Court, D. Oregon
JAMIE M. HOLLY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael J. McShane United States District Judge
Jamie Michele Holly brings this action for judicial review of
a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying her application for disability insurance benefits
(DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for an
immediate award of benefits.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
filed an application for disability insurance benefits,
alleging disability as of December 15, 2008. Tr. 195-200. The
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr.
144-160. A hearing was held before an ALJ on March 21, 2014.
Tr. 28. After the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged
onset date to March 3, 2009, the date of her surgery. Tr. 10,
212. On April 11, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claim. Tr. 7-27. Plaintiff requested review
of the hearing decision which was denied by the Appeals
Council on September 30, 2015 making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-6. This appeal
reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision
if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the
legal findings are supported by substantial evidence on the
record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r for
Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
“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 v. Astrue,
698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine
whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the
administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence
that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's
conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772
(9th Cir. 1986).
Commissioner's findings are upheld if supported by
inferences reasonably drawn from the record; if evidence
exists to support more than one rational interpretation, the
court must defer to the Commissioner's decision.
Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193; Aukland v.
Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1034-35 (9th Cir. 2000) (when
evidence can rationally be interpreted in more than one way,
the court must uphold the Commissioner's decision). A
reviewing court, however, “cannot affirm the
Commissioner's decision on a ground that the
Administration did not invoke in making its decision.”
Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050,
1054 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). A court may not
reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is
harmless. Id. at 1055-56. “[T]he burden of
showing that an error is harmful normally falls upon the
party attacking the agency's determination.”
Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409 (2009).
Social Security Administration uses a five step sequential
evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. The initial burden of
proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps.
If claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the
first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at
step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the
Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate the claimant is
capable of making an adjustment to other work after
considering the claimant's residual functional capacity,
age, education, and work experience. Id.
the ALJ found at step one of the sequential analysis that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
(SGA) since the alleged onset date. Tr. 12. At step two, the
ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: cervical and lumbar spine degenerative disc
disease, a history of rotator cuff tear with arthroscopic
surgery, bipolar disorder, adjustment disorder with mixed
anxiety and depressed mood, and borderline intellectual
functioning. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that
none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination,
met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Between steps three
and four, the ALJ found that retains the residual functional
capacity to perform light work, but is precluded from doing
any lifting, reaching, pushing or pulling with the right
upper extremity above shoulder level. Tr. 15. She can perform
simple, repetitive, routine tasks with no more than
occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the
general public. Id. At step four, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff is unable to perform past work, but at step
five, found plaintiff to retain the ability to work as a
sorter, assembler, or folder. Tr. 21-22.
Issues raised by Plaintiff
challenges the ALJ's findings on five main points: (1)
the ALJ erred in his consideration of the medical opinions;
(2) the ALJ failed to give clear and convincing reasons for
failing to credit Plaintiff's testimony; (3) the ALJ
erred in finding that Plaintiff's intellectual
limitations do not meet the criteria of Listing 12.05C; (4)
the ALJ erred in failing to credit the lay evidence; and (5)
the Commissioner failed to meet her burden of proving that
Plaintiff retains the ability to perform “other
work” in the national economy. Because the Court finds
that the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff disabled
under Listing 12.05C, the Court does not address
Plaintiff's other allegations of error.
III.Plaintiff's intellectual limitation under the