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Josh v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 29, 2017

JEFFREY ERNEST JOSH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Kathryn Tassinari and Drew Johnson, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Janice E. Hebert, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Jordan D. Goddard, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Of Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael H. Simon, District Judge.

         Jeffrey Ernest Josh (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS for an immediate award of benefits.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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).

         When 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 1226.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Application

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on April 30, 2015. Administrative Record (“AR”) 10, 178, 185. Both applications allege disability beginning July 13, 2010, due to a learning disability, depression, suicidal thoughts, and lack of concentration. AR 221. Plaintiff was born in 1962 and was 47 years old at the date of alleged onset of his disability. AR 178. Plaintiff attended high school until the twelfth grade, but he did not graduate. AR 34-35. Although he received special education assistance in school, Plaintiff's grades were so poor that he had earned only half of the required number of credits to earn a diploma. AR 34-35, 308. From approximately 1995 until 2009, Plaintiff worked as a screen printer. AR 36, 295. Plaintiff admitted a past methamphetamine habit that began in 2006 and ended approximately April 1, 2015. AR 12, 330. At the time of his application, Plaintiff lived in a trailer with his father. AR 243.

         The Commissioner initially denied Plaintiff's claims on October 29, 2015, and again on reconsideration on November 19, 2015. AR 114, 119, 128. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on April 5, 2016. AR 28, 134. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and vocational expert (“VE”) Mark Mann. AR 29. The ALJ issued a decision on June 6, 2016, finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 10-22.

         Plaintiff petitioned the Appeals Council for review. AR 5. The Appeals Council denied his petition on July 11, 2016, at which date the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1. Plaintiff then sought review in this Court.

         B. The Sequential Analysis

         A 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 ...

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