United States District Court, D. Oregon
Katherine L. Eitenmiller Mark A. Manning Harder, Wells, Baron
& Manning, P.C. Attorneys for Plaintiff
J. Williams, U.S. Attorney Janice E. Hébert, Asst.
U.S. Attorney, Michael S. Howard Special Assistant U.S.
Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security
Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
Jelderks U.S. Magistrate Judge
William Rigole II brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
Commissioner) denying his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act (the
Act). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's
decision is reversed and this case remanded for further
Plaintiff filed his application for a period of disability
and DIB on July 13, 2014, alleging disability as of March 9,
2014. Tr. 17. The Commissioner denied his application
initially and on reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Tr. 111-12. An administrative hearing was held on June 2,
2015, before ALJ John Michaelsen. Tr. 14-30. In a decision
dated June 11, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 14-30. The
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner on September 9, 2015, when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff
now appeals to this Court for review of the
Commissioner's final decision.
was born in 1980 and was 33 years old on the date he alleges
he became disabled. Tr. 75-76. Plaintiff is a military
veteran and served in the Army from 1999 to 2004 during
Operation Iraqi Freedom. Tr. 276, 281-83. After being
honorably discharged from the Army, Plaintiff attended two
years of vocational rehabilitation training through the
Veteran's Administration (“VA”). Tr. 281,
283. He has past relevant work as a U.S. Army infantryman and
a trauma surgical technician. Tr. 164, 191. Plaintiff alleges
disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
vision impairment, and diabetes. Pl.'s Br. at 1; Tr.
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. The five step sequential inquiry
is summarized below, as described in Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).
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).
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).
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 listed in the listings, the Commissioner's
evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under Step
Four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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.
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. §
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.
initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements through December 31, 2018.
first step of his disability analysis, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since March 9, 2014, the alleged onset date. Tr. 19.
second step, the ALJ found Plaintiff's PTSD was a severe
impairment. 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 Listing
of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d).
proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ assessed
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC). He found
Plaintiff retained the functional capacity to:
[P]erform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: simple,
repetitive, routine tasks requiring no more than occasional
interaction with coworkers and the general public.
Tr. 21. In making his determination, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of his symptoms were not
entirely credible. Tr. 22.
fourth step of the disability analysis, the ALJ found
Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant
work. Tr. 24.
fifth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform other
jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy. Based upon testimony from the VE, the ALJ cited
battery stacker, cleaner II, and basket filler as examples
such work. Id. Having concluded that Plaintiff could
perform other work, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not been
under a disability within the meaning of the Act since March
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 of establishing that a claimant can
perform “other work” at Step Five of the
disability analysis process. Tackett, 180 F.3d at
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 Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
“Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla
but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039. The
court must weigh all of the evidence, whether it supports or
detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Martinez
v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 771 (9th Cir. 1986). The
Commissioner's decision must be upheld if “the
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation.” Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039-40.
appeal, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred by: 1) failing to
include the limiting effects of Plaintiff's vision
impairment in the hypothetical to the VE and the RFC
determination; 2) failing to properly evaluate medical
opinion evidence; 3) failing to provide clear and convincing
reasons supported by substantial evidence to discredit
Plaintiff's symptom testimony; and 4) improperly
discrediting lay witness evidence.
Step Two Findings
argues the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff's
keratoconus was a severe impairment at Step Two, and as a
result, the hypothetical posed to the VE and the ALJ's
RFC determination were defective. The Commissioner argues the
ALJ did not err because Plaintiff's vision could be
corrected, and because a reasonable person could find his eye
condition caused no significant limitation on his ability to
perform work-related activities. Def.'s Br. at 2-5.