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Albright v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 23, 2017


          RICHARD F. MCGINTY Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon JANICE E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney.

          MARTHA A. BODEN Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant.


          Malcolm F. Marsh United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Klayton V. Albright seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits pursuant to 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 reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision for an immediate payment of benefits.


         On January 17, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for benefits, alleging disability beginning September 4, 1991, due to an inability to concentrate and maintain focus, mood lability, and maintain appropriate social standards. Tr. 271. Plaintiff s claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). An ALJ held a hearing on June 17, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified. Medical expert William Weiss, Ph.D., testified by telephone, and vocational expert, Richard Hincks, attended the June 17, 2014 hearing and testified. At that hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to September 4, 2009. The ALJ held a second hearing on October 28, 2014, at which Plaintiff again testified. On November 14, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

         Born in 1991, Plaintiff was 18 years old the amended alleged onset date, and 20 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff has a history of some special education classes and had an individualized education plan for reading and writing, as well as behavioral and emotional needs, but graduated with a regular high school diploma. Tr. 299, 308. Plaintiff attended some community college classes, but reported not performing well. Tr. 240. Plaintiff has no past relevant work, has worked very briefly as a dishwasher and cleaner part-time, «nd worked sorting cherries. Tr. 39-41.


         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowenv. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140(1987);20C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Valentine v. Commissioner 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. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 17, 2012, the application date. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and learning disorder. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff s impairments, or combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.

         The ALJ assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with additional nonexertional limitations: Plaintiff can perform "simple, routine tasks with an SVP of 1 or 2; reading is limited to the 4th grade level; and he can have occasional contact with the public." Tr. 22.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. Tr. 29. At step five, the ALJ found that considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including such representative occupations as: lot attendant, laundry sorter, street cleaner and fruit washer. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from January 17, 2012, the date his SSI application was filed.


         On appeal to this court, Plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinions of treating physician Randall E. Blome, M.D., examining psychologist Paul S. Stoltzfus, Psy.D., and testifying medical expert William Weiss, Ph.D.; (2) the post-hearing evidence from Dr. Freed undermines the ALJ's determination; and (3) the RFC fails to incorporate all his limitations. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of legal error. Alternatively, the Commissioner contends that even if the ALJ erred, Plaintiff has not demonstrated harmful error.


         The 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. Batson v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin.,359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If the evidence supports the ...

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