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Prue v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

August 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          JOHN V. ACOSTA United States Magistrate Judge.

         Justin Scott Prue ("plaintiff) seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). Because the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, her decision should be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his application for DIB on February 20, 2014, alleging disability as of May 3 0, 2010. (Tr. 169-70.) The Commissioner denied his application initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 114-18, 120-22, 126-27.) An administrative hearing was held on July 2, 2015. (Tr. 40-74.) After the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 5, 2015, Finding plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 15-39.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs subsequent request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. (Tr. 1-6.)

         Factual Background

         Born on June 18, 1981, plaintiff was 28 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 34 years old at the time of the hearing, (Tr. 76, 89, 111, 169.) He speaks English, graduated high school, and has U.S. Marine Corps training in combat engineering and recruiting. (Tr. 86, 109, 111, 199.) Plaintiff alleges disability due to failed back syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), major depression, and suicidal ideation. (Tr. 198.)

         Standard of Review

         The 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. 3 89, 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). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F, 3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         The 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).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether aperson is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.[1] First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step 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, §404.1520(C). If the claimant does not have a medically determinable, severe impairment, he is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can work, he is not disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that 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. § 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.

         The ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ performed the sequential analysis. At step one of the five-step process outlined above, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 20.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, obesity, failed back syndrome, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. (Tr. 20-21.) At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 21-22.)

         The ALJ next assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC") and found that plaintiff has the RFC to

perform modified sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). The claimant can lift/carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. He can sit for 6 of 8 hours and stand/walk for 2 of 8 hours. He can push/pull as much as he could lift and carry. The claimant can never climb ladders or scaffolds. He can no more than occasionally crouch, crawl, balance, stoop, kneel and climb ramps and stairs, He is further limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks and simple work related decision [sic]. He can no more than occasionally interact with the public and with coworkers.

(Tr. 23-32.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work. (Tr. 32.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could "perform the requirements of representative occupations such as" electronics jobs, semi-conductor jobs, and circuit board jobs, (Tr, ...

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