United States District Court, D. Oregon
SARA J. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Richard F. McGinty McGinty & Belcher, Attorneys, Attorney
J. Williams, U.S. Attorney Janice E. Hébert, Asst.
U.S. Attorney, Kathryn A. Miller Special Assistant U.S.
Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security
Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION & ORDER
Jelderks, U.S. Magistrate Judge
Jane Williams (“Plaintiff”) brings this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1381a seeking
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”). For the reasons that
follow, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and this
case is remanded for immediate calculation and payment of
filed her application for DIB and SSI on June 24, 2011,
alleging disability beginning September 23, 2010. Tr. 233,
240. Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on October
11, 2011, and those denials were not appealed. Tr. 137, 141.
On May 7, 2012, Plaintiff filed new claims for SSI and DIB,
again alleging an onset date of March 23, 2010. Tr. 244, 248.
After Plaintiff's new claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration, a hearing was convened on October 25, 2013,
before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Andrew
Grace. Tr. 33-75, 145, 149. On Plaintiff's request, a
supplemental hearing was held on April 16, 2014. Tr. 76-85.
The ALJ issued a decision on May 2, 2014, finding Plaintiff
not disabled. Tr. 17- 32. The decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner on January 13, 2016, when the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for
review. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court for
review of the Commissioner's final decision.
February 19, 1979, Plaintiff was 31 years old on the initial
alleged onset date. Tr. 90, 244. Plaintiff has a 12th grade
education and has completed some community college
coursework. Tr. 38-43. She has past relevant work as a
caregiver, sales attendant, and cashier. Tr. 24. Plaintiff
alleges disability due to fibromyalgia, chronic pain,
anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
and obesity. Tr. 90, 100, 113, 125.
engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine
whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The five step
sequential inquiry is summarized below, as described in
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir.
One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is
engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is
not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner
proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step two.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).
Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not
have any such impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has
one or more severe impairment(s), the Commissioner proceeds
to evaluate the claimant's case under step three. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe
impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines
whether the claimant's impairment “meets or
equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments
listed in the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) regulations. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has an impairment that meets a
listing is presumed disabled under the Act. If the
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an
impairment in the listings, the Commissioner's evaluation
of the claimant's case proceeds under step four. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
is able to perform work he or she has done in the past. A
claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled.
If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do past
relevant work, the Commissioner's evaluation of
claimant's case proceeds under step five. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).
Five. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform
other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds claimant is
able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that
claimant is able to do. The Commissioner may satisfy this
burden through the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), or by reference to the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the
Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs
exist in the national economy that the claimant is able to
do, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does
not meet the burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(g)(1), 416.920(g)(1).
steps one through four of the sequential inquiry, the burden
of proof is on the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at
1098. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show the claimant can perform jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. Id.
first step of the disability analysis, the ALJ found
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
September 30, 2015, and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date, March 23,
2010. Tr. 19.
second step, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia,
obesity, migraines, asthma, PTSD, anxiety, panic disorder,
probable sleep apnea, and right knee degenerative joint
disease. Tr. 19.
third step, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled
a presumptively disabling impairment set out in the Listings.
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1; Tr. 19-20.
proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ assessed
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). He found Plaintiff retained the capacity
[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except she can never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl; frequently balance; frequently reach,
handle, and feel bilaterally; should avoid concentrated
exposure to hazards; should have no public contact,
occasional superficial contact with coworkers and occasional
contact with supervisors; and is limited to moderate noise
level, defined as the noise level of a department store or
fourth step of the disability analysis, the ALJ found
Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr.
fifth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the
functional capacity required to perform jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 24. Relying
on the VE's testimony, the ALJ cited addresser and
document preparer as examples of work Plaintiff could
perform. Tr. 25. Based upon the conclusion that Plaintiff
could perform such work, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Act, from March 23, 2010,
through the date of his decision. Tr. 25.
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). Claimants bear the initial burden of
establishing disability. Roberts v. Shalala, 66 F.3d
179, 182 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 517 U.S.
1122 (1996). The Commissioner bears the burden of developing
the record, DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 849
(9th Cir. 1991), and bears ...