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Harris v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 18, 2017

SHELLY HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MERRILL SCHNEIDER ATTORNEY FOR PLAINTIFF

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS UNITED STATES ATTORNEY DISTRICT OF OREGON RENATA GOWIE ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

          ALEXIS L. TOMA SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Malcolm F. Marsh United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Shelly Harris seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed and this action is remanded for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB application on February 4, 2013, alleging disability beginning April 10, 2012, due to dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Tr. Soc. Sec. Admin. R. ("Tr.") 269, ECF No. 13. Plaintiffs claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ held a hearing on April 24, 2015, at which Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Nancy E. Bloom, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On June 8, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff s request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

         Plaintiff was bom in 1964, was 48 years old on the alleged onset of disability, and was 51 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 39. Plaintiff graduated from high school, has past relevant work as a teaching assistant, and at the time of the hearing, was employed part-time as an in-home caregiver. Tr. 39, 78-79, 117, 270, 313.

         THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012); Valentine v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can do other work which exists in the national economy. Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Plaintiff meets insured status requirements for a DIB application through June 30, 2016. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.

         The ALJ assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following nonexertional limitations:

she is limited to work consistent with SVP1, she is limited to low-stress work, which is defined as work requiring few decisions and few changes; no contact with the public; and only occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors.

Tr, 30. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, such as representative occupations as: machine egg washer, bottling line attendant, and belt picker. Tr. 39-40. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act at any time from April 10, 2012 through the date of the decision.

         ISSUES ON REVIEW

         On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ failed to incorporate the findings of Dr. Dean's vocational rehabilitation examination into the RFC determination; and (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated treating opinions of Carrie Mostul, PMHNP, Rebecca Hill, PMHNP, and Margaret Evans, LPC. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. The Commissioner also argues that even if the ALJ erred, Plaintiff has not demonstrated harmful error and the ALJ's decision should be affirmed.

         STANDARD ...


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