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Wheat v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 8, 2017

SHARON LEE WHEAT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOLIE A. RUSSO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Sharon Wheat brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Social Security Income. 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.

         BACKGROUND

         Born in 1969, plaintiff alleges disability beginning September 21, 2010, due to memory loss related to a stroke, anxiety, nonverbal learning disorder, high blood pressure, and eczema. Tr. 210, 212, 242, 245. On January 21, 2015, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 21-34. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-5.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 23. At step two, the ALJ determined the following impairments were medically determinable and severe: “organic mental disorder and affective disorder.” Id. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 24.

         The ALJ next resolved plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as follows:

She can lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently in an eight-hour workday. She can stand and/or walk for six hours and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, and humidity. She can perform simple routine tasks that consist of Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) 1 or 2 type tasks. She can have occasional contact with co-workers and the public. She is unable to perform work activity that requires a fast-paced assembly line pace.

Tr. 26.

         At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 32. At step five, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs in the national and local economy despite her impairments, such as small products assembler, housekeeping cleaner, and garment sorter. Tr. 33.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by: (1) mistreating medical evidence from Jill Spendal, Psy.D., Luahna Ude, Ph.D., and Joshua Boyd, Ph.D.; (2) rejecting the lay statement of her sister, Debra Zahrowski; and (3) failing to resolve an ambiguity in the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony.

         I. Medical Opinion Evidence

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ wrongfully discredited mental health evidence from Drs. Spendal, Ude, and Boyd. There are three types of acceptable medical opinions in Social Security cases: those from treating, examining, and non-examining doctors. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995). The opinions of examining physicians are generally accorded greater weight than the opinions of non-examining physicians. Id. (citations omitted). To reject the uncontroverted opinion of an examining doctor, the ALJ must present clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence. Id. (citation omitted). If an examining doctor's ...


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