United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
AIKEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Carmel Guzman brings this action pursuant to the Social
Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to
obtain judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner").
The Commissioner denied plaintiffs applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
reversed and remanded for an immediate award of benefits.
2012, plaintiff applied for DIB. She alleged disability
beginning October 30, 2008, due to arthritis, phlebitis,
dyslexia, obesity, and an audio processing disorder. Her
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On
November 6, 2014, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an
ALJ. At the hearing, plaintiff testified and was represented
by a non-attorney advocate. A vocational expert
("VE") also testified. The ALJ found plaintiff not
disabled in a written decision issued December 8, 2014. After
the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a
complaint in this Court.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based upon 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." Gutierrez v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014)
(citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh
"both the evidence that supports and the evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v.
Massanari, 276 F, 3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the
evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the
Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner
must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlund
v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish
disability. Howard v, Heckler, 782 F.2d
1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the
plaintiff 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. §
404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not
engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the
alleged disability onset date. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc
disease, osteoarthritis, obesity, learning disorder and
depression." Tr. 12; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c). At step three, the ALJ determined
plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or in
combination, did not meet or equal "one of the listed
impairments" that the Commissioner acknowledges are so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d).
considering plaintiffs residual functional capacity
("RFC"), the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not
perform any of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404, 1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, however, the ALJ
found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the
national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a
small parts assembler. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404,
1520(a)(4)(v), (g)(1). Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff
not disabled and denied his applications for benefits.
contends the ALJ committed reversible error at two places in
the five-step analysis. First, plaintiff asserts the ALJ
erroneously rejected the opinions of an examining
psychologist and an agency reviewing psychologist without
legally sufficient justification. As a result, plaintiff
avers the RFC does not account for all her limitations.
Second, plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to resolve a conflict
between the testimony of the VE and the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles ("DOT") regarding the
requirements of the job of small parts assembler. Because
small parts assembler is the only job the ALJ identified at
step five, plaintiff asserts remand is necessary to determine
whether there is work in the national economy she is able to
Treatment of Medical Opinions
challenges the ALJ's treatment of two medical opinions;
the opinion of examining psychologist Dr. Stradinger and the
opinion of agency reviewing psychologist Dr. Friedburg. There
are three types of medical opinions in Social Security
disability cases: those of treating, examining, and reviewing
physicians. Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F, 3d 1195,
1201 02 (9th Cir. 2001). "Generally, a treating
physician's opinion carries more weight than an examining
physician's, and an examining physician's opinion
carries more weight than a reviewing physician's."
Id. at 1202; accord 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d). Accordingly, "the Commissioner must provide
clear and convincing reasons for rejecting the uncontradicted
opinion of an examining physician." Lester v.
Chater,81 F.3d ...