United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
CHRISTINA L. COWIE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Yim You United States Magistrate Jude
Cristina A. Cowie (“Cowie”) brings this action
for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). This court has jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). All parties have
consented to allow a Magistrate Judge enter final orders and
judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and
28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this case is
REMANDED for further proceedings.
August 19, 2012, Cowie applied for DIB, alleging disability
as of January 15, 2011. Tr. 156-57. Her applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 91-94, 98-100.
January 27, 2015, a hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), wherein Cowie was represented
by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert
(“VE”). Tr. 28-62. On April 16, 2015, the ALJ
issued a decision finding Cowie not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Tr. 9-23. After the Appeals Council
denied her request for review, Cowie filed a complaint in
this court. Tr. 1-4.
August 16, 1974, Cowie was 36 years old on the alleged onset
date of disability and 40 years old at the time of the
hearing. Tr. 33, 156. She obtained a GED in 1994 and worked
previously as a deli worker, food prep worker, pizza cook,
and manager. Tr. 54-56, 168. Cowie alleges disability due to
back pain, leg weakness, peripheral neuropathy, seizures,
incontinence, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”). Tr. 40-41, 167, 203, 211.
is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
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 engages in a five-step sequential
inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within
the meaning of the Act. Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468
F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted); 20 C.F.R.
one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is performing
substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i) & (b).
two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has “a
severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment” or combination of impairments that meets
the 12- month durational requirement. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii) & (c). Absent a severe impairment or
combination of impairments, the claimant is not disabled.
three, the ALJ determines whether the impairment or
combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (Listing of
Impairments). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) & (d).
If the impairment or combination of impairments is determined
to meet or equal any listed impairment, the claimant is
adjudication proceeds beyond step three, the ALJ evaluates
medical and other relevant evidence in assessing the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). The claimant's RFC is an assessment
of work-related activities the claimant may still perform on
a regular and continuing basis, despite the limitations
imposed by her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); SSR
96-8p, available at 1996 WL 374184.
four, the ALJ uses the RFC to determine whether the claimant
can perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv) & (e). If the claimant cannot perform
past relevant work, then at step five the ALJ determines
whether the claimant can perform other work in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & (g).
claimant bears the initial burden of establishing disability.
Lockwood v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d
1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). If the process
reaches step five, however, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that jobs exist in the national or local
economy within the claimant's RFC. Id. If the
Commissioner meets this burden, then the claimant is not
disabled; otherwise, the claimant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & (g).
one, the ALJ found Cowie last met the insured status of the
Act on December 31, 2014, and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date, January 15,
2011. Tr. 11.
two, the ALJ determined the following impairments were
medically determinable and severe: degenerative disc disease
of the lumbar spine, COPD, and peripheral neuropathy.
three, the ALJ found that Cowie's impairments, either
singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the