United States District Court, D. Oregon
MERRILL SCHNEIDER Schneider Kerr & Robichaux Attorneys
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney JANICE E. HEBERT Assistant
United States Attorney
MORADO Regional Chief Counsel MARTHA A. BODEN Special
Assistant United States Attorney Social Security
Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE
Lisa Sweeney seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA)
in which she denied Plaintiff's applications for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the
decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS
this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion
protectively filed her application for SSI on June 18, 2012.
Tr. 281. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date
of August 4, 1999. Tr. 281. Plaintiff's applications were
denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on July 23, 2014, and a
supplemental hearing on October 28, 2014. Tr. 42-70, 71-88.
Plaintiff, an independent medical expert, and a vocational
expert (VE) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an
attorney at the hearings.
January 30, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he found
Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to
benefits. Tr. 21-36. On July 11, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's
decision, and the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. See Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
September 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.
was born on May 6, 1969. Tr. 183, 191. Plaintiff was 45 years
old at the time of the hearings. Plaintiff has a high-school
equivalency degree. Tr. 80, 319. The ALJ found Plaintiff does
not have any past relevant work experience. Tr. 35, 65.
alleges disability due to herniated discs in her back,
“severe sleep apnea, ” bipolar disorder,
congenital adrenal hyperplasia, “severe” restless
leg syndrome, arthritis, and high cholesterol. Tr. 318.
as noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary
of the medical evidence. See Tr. 23-35. After
carefully reviewing the medical records, this Court adopts
the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence.
initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish
disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110
(9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must
demonstrate her inability “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). The ALJ must
develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when
the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of
the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885
(9th Cir. 2011)(quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d
453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).
district 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 as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).
Substantial evidence is “relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Molina, 674 F.3d. at
1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more
than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574
F.3d at 690).
is responsible for evaluating a claimant's testimony,
resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving
ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591
(9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence
whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's
decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d
1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.
Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir.
2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d
1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).
The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation
One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (SGA). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(I). See
also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 648 F.3d 721,
724 (9th Cir. 2011).
Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant does not have any medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.
Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines
the claimant's impairments 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.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d
at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, known as
Listings, are enumerated in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P,
appendix 1 (Listed Impairments).
Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The
claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained,
work-related physical and mental activities the claimant can
still do on a regular and continuing basis despite her
limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). See also
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. “A ‘regular
and continuing basis' means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a
week, or an equivalent schedule.” SSR 96-8p, at *1. In
other words, the Social Security Act does not require
complete incapacity to be disabled. Taylor v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec. Admin., 659 F.3d 1228, 1234-35 (9th Cir.
2011)(citing Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th
Four the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant retains the RFC to perform work she
has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.
Commissioner reaches Step Five, she must determine whether
the claimant is able to do any other work that exists in the
national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). See
also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724-25. Here the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to show a significant number of jobs
exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Lockwood v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d
1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010). The Commissioner may satisfy this
burden through the testimony of a VE or by reference to the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines set forth in the regulations at
20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 2. If the
Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)(1).
One the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since June 18, 2012, the application date.
Two the ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of
obesity; degenerative disc disease affecting the lumbar
spine; mild degenerative joint disease; right trochanter
bursitis; and mental disorders “variously described as
bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
and history of alcohol dependence.” Tr. 23-25.
Three the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's medically
determinable impairments do not meet or medically equal one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P,
appendix 1. Tr. 25-27. The ALJ found Plaintiff has the RFC to
perform light work except that Plaintiff can lift, carry,
push, and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; sit four hours at one time and up to a total of
six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand and walk two hours
at one time and up to a total of four hours in an eight-hour
workday; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; occasionally be exposed to extreme cold
and vibration; and never work around hazards such as
unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts. The ALJ found
Plaintiff does not have any limitations in understanding or
memory; has sufficient concentration, persistence, and pace
to complete simple, routine tasks for a normal workday and
workweek; should have only brief interactions with the
general public and coworkers; and can accept supervision. Tr.
Four the ALJ concluded Plaintiff has not performed any past
relevant work. Tr. 35.
Five, however, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff can perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy including as a laundry folder, a price marker, and a
silver wrapper. Tr. 35-36. Accordingly, the ALJ found
Plaintiff is not disabled. Tr. 36.
contends the ...