United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
STEPHEN J. METZLER, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA SULLIVAN United States Magistrate Judge.
Stephen J. Metzler brings this action pursuant to the Social
Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), for judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”). The Commissioner denied
plaintiff Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under Title II of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et
seq. For the following reasons, the Court REVERSES the
Commissioner's decision and REMANDS for further
applied for DIB on November 30, 2012, with an alleged
disability onset date of July 1, 2007. Tr.
166-72. His claim was denied initially on March
18, 2013, and on reconsideration on July 25, 2013. Tr.
89-101, 102-16. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Riley J. Atkins held a hearing on February 25, 2015. Tr.
39-88. Plaintiff testified at the hearing, represented by
counsel; a vocational expert (“VE”), Gary R.
Jesky, also testified, as did plaintiff's wife, Emily
Anne Metzler-Somervell. Id. On April 1, 2015, the
ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled under
the Act and denying him DIB. Tr. 24-34. Plaintiff requested
review before the Appeals Council, Tr. 19, which was denied
August 18, 2016, Tr. 1-4. Plaintiff then sought review before
1970, plaintiff is married and has two young children. Tr.
43, 55, 166, 221, 234. He graduated from high school and has
completed some college coursework. Tr. 196, 544. Plaintiff
previously worked as a warehouse manager and test/service
center manager, and in contracting and sales. Tr. 44, 49,
100, 176, 188, 247, 288. Plaintiff suffers from multiple
sclerosis (“MS”), which causes intense fatigue
and significant vision problems. Tr. 43, 46-48, 186, 196.
Plaintiff has also experienced depression, post-traumatic
stress disorder, and an anxiety disorder. Tr. 54, 94, 306,
335, 410, 547, 551.
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) (quotation omitted).
The court must weigh “both the evidence that supports
and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.”
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); Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 680-81
(9th Cir. 2005) (“[The court] must uphold the ALJ's
decision where the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation”). The “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) (quotation omitted).
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 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. First, the Commissioner
determines whether a claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”; if so, the
claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140;
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two,
the Commissioner determines 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), 416.920(c). A severe
impairment is one “which significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities[.]” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) &
416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At step three, the
Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or
equals “one of a number of listed impairments that the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity.” Id.; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is
conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the analysis
proceeds. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
point, the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant
evidence to determine the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”), an assessment
of work-related activities the claimant may still perform on
a regular and continuing basis despite any limitations his
impairments impose. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
404.1545(b)-(c), 416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). The Commissioner
proceeds to the fourth step to determine whether the claimant
can perform “past relevant work.”
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can work, he is not
disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146
n.5. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the
claimant can perform other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. Id. at 142; 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) &
(f). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
first found that plaintiff last met the Act's insured
status requirements on December 31, 2012. Tr. 26. At step
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date
through the date last insured. Id. At step two, the
ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairment of MS.
Id. The ALJ found that the following were medically
determinable but not severe impairments for plaintiff:
depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug
use, and an anxiety disorder. Tr. 27. At step three, the ALJ
found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination thereof that met or medically equaled a listed
impairment. Tr. 28. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC
to perform light work, with certain physical and social
limitations. Tr. 28-29. At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff
unable to perform past relevant work. Tr. 31. At step five,
the ALJ found that plaintiff could ...