United States District Court, D. Oregon
J. Wall, Law Offices of George J. Wall, Of Attorneys for
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Janice E. Hebert,
Assistant United States Attorney, Ryan Lu, Special Assistant
United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Of
Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. SIMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dowell (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his
applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for the
immediate calculation of an award of benefits.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings
are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” means
“more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995)). It means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews, 53
F.3d at 1039).
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be
upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a
rational reading of the record, and this Court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190,
1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] reviewing court must
consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation
marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm
the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did
not rely. Id.; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at
was born in March, 1985. AR 380. He speaks English and earned
his GED after completing the 11th grade. AR 244, 383. He has
past work experience as a gas station attendant, a store
stocker, and as a roofer. Id.
filed for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits on August 14, 2012, alleging disability as of June
26, 2009, due to mental impairments. AR 243. Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration,
and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 235-38. An
administrative hearing was held before ALJ Rudolph Murgo on
October 24, 2014. AR 36. On November 7, 2014, ALJ Murgo
issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's
applications. AR 14-30. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's subsequent request for review on February 17,
2016, making the ALJ's decision final. AR 1-4. This
claimant is disabled if he or she 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). “Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act.” Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (DIB); 20 C.F.R. §
416.920 (SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140
(1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4); 416.920(a)(4). The five-step
sequential process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i);
416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant
mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay
or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510; 416.910. If the
claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe”
under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Unless
expected to result in death, an impairment is
“severe” if it significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a); 416.921(a).
This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last
for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509; 416.909. If the claimant does not have
a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the
claimant has a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment
does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments,
the analysis proceeds beyond step three. At that point, the
ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to
assess and determine the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”). This is an
assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may
still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 416.920(e);
416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's
RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her “past relevant
work” with this RFC assessment? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot
perform his or ...