United States District Court, D. Oregon
Katherine L. Eitenmiller and Brent Wells, Harder, Wells,
Baron & Manning, P.C., Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Janice E.
Hébert, Assistant United States Attorney, United
States Attorney's Office, Sarah Moum, Special Assistant
United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Of
Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. SIMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Tony Allen Crawford seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) pursuant to the Social Security Act. For
the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is
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 of 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 of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190,
1193, 1196 (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
filed an application for SSI on March 3, 2011, alleging
disability beginning on July 1, 2006. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 177, 178. In Plaintiff's application,
he alleged disabilities limiting his capacity for work,
including illiteracy, a back injury, and foot pain. AR 214.
The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially
on August 25, 2011, and on reconsideration on February 9,
2012. AR 112; AR 120. On February 24, Plaintiff requested a
hearing, 2012, and Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Alan Beall presided over a hearing on
April 3, 2013. AR 124; AR 34. The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision on May 20, 2013. AR 15. Plaintiff requested a review
of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which
denied Plaintiff's request on November 7, 2013. Plaintiff
filed a complaint seeking review of the final decision of the
Commissioner before this Court on December 31, 2013. AR 521.
Plaintiff and the Commissioner subsequently stipulated that
an ALJ would “update the medical record; develop and
evaluate the claimant's education; obtain vocational
expert (“VE”) testimony; and offer the Plaintiff
an opportunity for a new hearing” before issuing a
decision. AR 513. Judge Marco Hernández entered a
judgment and order of remand to that effect on October 28,
filed another application for SSI on July 1, 2014. AR 536.
That claim was approved on March 12, 2015. Id. On
April 20, 2015, the Appeals Council informed Plaintiff that
the favorable determination had been reopened, good cause
existed to find that the favorable determination was made in
error, and that the Appeals Council intended to combine the
reopened favorable determination with the unfavorable
determination remanded by Judge Hernández for further
proceedings and a new decision by an ALJ. AR 554. The Appeals
Council determined that the favorable decision was not
supported by substantial evidence because it relied on the
erroneous finding that Plaintiff did not have past relevant
work. AR 555.
John Michaelsen presided over a hearing on Plaintiff's
application on December 23, 2015. AR 416. On February 24,
2016, ALJ Michaelsen denied Plaintiff's claim. AR
394-406. Although during the hearing ALJ Michaelsen
referenced the Appeals Council's decision reopening the
favorable decision based on Plaintiff's July 1, 2014
application, in the ALJ's written decision, ALJ
Michaelsen did not reference the July 1, 2014 application or
the reopened favorable decision based that application. ALJ
Michaelsen instead focused only on the March 3, 2011
application and the unfavorable decision based on that
application, which had been remanded for further proceedings
by Judge Hernández. The Court has jurisdiction to
review ALJ Michaelsen's decision pursuant to 20 C.F.R.
The Sequential Analysis
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), 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). An
impairment or combination of impairments 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).
Unless expected to result in death, this impairment must have
lasted or 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 step three.
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 continues. 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
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 her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds
to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v),