United States District Court, D. Oregon
DONALD E. ROWLAND, Jr., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
L. Mooney and Kathleen R. Dent, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP,
and Daniel S. Jones, Law Offices of Charles E. Binder and
Harry J. Binder, LLP, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Janice E.
Hébert, Assistant United States Attorney; United
States Attorney's Office, District of Oregon, Erin F.
Highland, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of
the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Of
Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge.
E. Rowland, Jr. seeks judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Because
the Commissioner's decision was not based on the proper
legal standards and the findings were not supported by
substantial evidence, the decision is REVERSED and REMANDED
for further proceedings.
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); Molina v. Astrue, 673 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th
Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion” and is more than a “mere
scintilla” of the evidence but less than a
preponderance. Id. at 1110-11 (quotation omitted).
The Court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they
“are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record[, ]” even if the evidence is susceptible to
multiple rational interpretations. Id. at 1110. The
Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (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) (quotation omitted).
Rowland filed his application for DIB on April 3, 2013,
alleging disability as of April 21, 2012. AR 140-45. Born in
September 1967, Mr. Rowland was 44 years old on the alleged
disability onset date and 47 years old at the time of the
administrative hearing. AR 41, 140, 160. He speaks English
and is a high school graduate. AR 165. He alleges disability
due to bulging disc injury, a herniated disc, cervical and
lumbar spine impairment, severe back pain, multiple joint
arthritis, hypertensive cardiovascular disease
(hypertension), and high cholesterol.
The Commissioner denied Mr. Rowland's application
initially and upon reconsideration, and Mr. Rowland requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). AR 98-99. After an administrative
hearing, the ALJ found Mr. Rowland not disabled in a decision
dated August 3, 2015. AR 16-28. On October 18, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Mr. Rowland's request for review.
AR 1-6. Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner, and Mr. Rowland now seeks
review in this Court.
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. §
432(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; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is
potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
five-step sequential process asks the following series of
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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. 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). 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). 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). 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. If the claimant does not
have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the
listed impairments, the analysis continues. At that point,
the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to
assess and determine the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”). This is an
assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may
still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(b)-(c). After the ALJ
determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to
4. Can the claimant perform his or her “past relevant
work” with this RFC assessment? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her
past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.920(a)(4)(v), 404.1560(c). If ...