United States District Court, D. Oregon
WILLIE J. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. RUSSO United States Magistrate Judge.
Willie Williams brings this action for judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Title XVI Social Security Income (“SSI”). All
parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter
final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with
Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons
set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed
and this case is remanded for further proceedings.
2012, plaintiff applied for SSI alleging disability as of
January 5, 2006. Tr. 189-94. His application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 103-06, 110-11. On
November 5, 2014, a hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”); plaintiff was represented by
counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert
(“VE”). Tr. 37-65. On January 15, 2015, the ALJ
issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Tr. 13-25. After the Appeals Council
denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in
this Court. Tr. 1-7.
December 31, 1976, plaintiff was 29 years old on the alleged
onset date and 37 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr.
189. Plaintiff graduated from high school and attended
classes at Western Oregon University. Tr. 207, 290. He worked
previously as a recycling laborer, pizzeria manager, and
shipping supervisor. Tr. 207, 278. Plaintiff alleges
disability due to: bipolar disorder, depression,
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and back
pain. Tr. 206.
court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is
based on proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock
v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal
quotations omitted). The court must weigh “both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
[Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable
interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the
Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v.
Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must
demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected . . . to
last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
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. §
416.920. At step one, the Commissioner determines whether a
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a
“medically severe impairment or combination of
impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a
severe impairment, he is not disabled.
three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's
impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal
“one of a number of listed impairments . . . the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482
U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). If so, the
claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner
proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can
still perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(f). If the claimant can work, he is not
disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner.
five, the Commissioner must establish the claimant can
perform other work existing in significant numbers in the
national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at
141-42; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g). If the Commissioner
meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
one of the five step sequential evaluation process outlined
above, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the application date. Tr. 15. At step
two, the ALJ determined the following impairments were
medically determinable and severe: “degenerative disc
disease, obesity, bipolar disorder NOS, depression, PTSD,
[and] anxiety.” Id. At step three, the ALJ
found plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in
combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of the
listed impairment. Id.
he did not establish presumptive disability at step three,
the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiff's impairments
affected his ability to work. The ALJ resolved that plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work except that he is limited to: “no
more than frequent climbing of ramps or stairs, balancing,
and crawling”; “no more than occasional climbing
of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, stooping, kneeling, and
crouching”; “simple ...