United States District Court, D. Oregon
Kathryn Tassinari and Drew Johnson, Of Attorneys for
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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
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
The Sequential Analysis
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 ...