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O'Dell v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 10, 2017

LINDA D. O'DELL, Plaintiff,

          KATHERINE EITEN MILLER BRENT WELLS Haider Wells Baron & Manning Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon JANICE E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney ERIN F. HIGHLAND Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant.


          Malcolm F. Marsh United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Linda D. O'Dell seeks judicial review of the partially favorable decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying in part her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403, and her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits under 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, the Court reverses and remands that portion of the Commissioner's decision denying benefits from June 16, 2010 through November 1, 2013, for an immediate calculation and award of benefits.


         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB and SSI applications on February 28, 2012, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2004, due to fibromyalgia/myofascial pain syndrome, major depressive disorder/bipolar disorder, panic disorder, anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder ("ADD"), migraines, heart problems, osteoarthritis, asthma, hernia, and irritable bowel syndrome. Tr. Soc. Sec. Admin, R. ("Tr.") 128, ECF No. 11. Plaintiffs claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ held a hearing on March 17, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Jeffrey Tittelfitz, also appeared at the hearing and testified. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her onset date to June 16, 2010. On December 19, 2014, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled prior to November 1, 2013, but beginning that date, her age category changed, and she became disabled applying Medical- Vocational Rule 202.06. Tr. 29. 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.

         Plaintiff was born in 1959, and was 53 years old on the amended onset of disability date and 55 on the date of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 128. Plaintiff completed high school and completed an associate's degree in Early Childhood Education, Tr. 87, 265. Plaintiff has worked as a home health care provider for her mother and brother, and worked part time as an assistant cook for Meals on Wheels. Tr. 88-90.


         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.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); Tacked 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).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements through September 30, 2012. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged onset of disability through her date last insured. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder, panic disorder without agoraphobia, attention deficit disorder without mention of hyperactivity, bipolar disorder, myofascial pain syndrome, osteoarthritis in the bilateral knees, and right knee degenerative changes. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs 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 light work with additional limitations:

[Plaintiff] is limited to lifting and/or carrying up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently. She is limited to sitting for up to eight hours, standing for up to four hours, and walking for up to one hour in an eight-hour day, with normal breaks. At one time, without interruption, [Plaintiff] can sit up to two hours, stand up to one hour, and walk up to 15 minutes. She may engage in occasional bilateral foot control operation. She can occasionally climb stairs and ramps. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] may occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. [Plaintiff] must avoid all unprotected heights. She must avoid moderate exposure to moving mechanical parts, operation of a motor vehicle, humidity, wetness, dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants; she also must avoid moderate exposure to extreme cold and extreme heat. [Plaintiff] must avoid moderate exposure to excessive noise. [Plaintiff] requires an independent work setting free of frequent public or peer interactions. She must have a structured, predictable work setting. She will require a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements.

         Tr. 23.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. The ALJ applied the rules non-mechanically and determined that as of November 1, 2013, Plaintiffs age category changed to an individual of advanced age, At step five, the ALJ found that prior to November 1, 2013, considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed, including such representative occupations as: electronics worker, office helper, and small products assembler. The ALJ also found that beginning November 1, 2013, the date Plaintiffs age category changed, and considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, directly applying Medical-Vocational Rule 202.06 requires a finding of "disabled." Tr. 29. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act prior to November 1, 2013, but became disabled on that date. Tr. 29.


         On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated her testimony; (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinions of John Ellison, M.D., Craig Morton, Psy.D., and Weili Zhang, D.O.; and (3) the RFC fails to incorporate all her 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. Batsort v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If the evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusion, the Commissioner must be affirmed; "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edhmd v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001); Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1010.


         I. The ALJ Erred in Evaluating the Medical Evidence

         A. ...

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