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Hill v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

January 25, 2018

NICOLE EILEEN HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ann Aiken United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Nicole Eileen Hill brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiffs applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         In November 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. She alleged disability beginning November 16, 2011, due to fibromyalgia, eczema, anxiety, depression, PTSD, migraines, learning disability (not otherwise specified), endometriosis, asthma, and sleep apnea. Plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, with the reconsideration denial dated September 2013. On March 3, 2015, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ and testified. A vocational expert also testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. In a written decision issued April 24, 2015, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based upon proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is 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." Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edhind v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

         COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The initial burden of proof rests upon plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, plaintiff must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected ... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         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(a)(4); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the alleged disability onset date of November 16, 2011. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments as of the alleged onset Dated: obesity, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, learning disorder (not otherwise specified), fibromyalgia, migraines, obstructive sleep apnea, and urinary retention of unknown etiology. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); id. §§ 4l6.920(a)(4)(ii), (c).

         At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or in combination, did not meet or equal "one of the listed impairments" that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R, §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. §§ 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). Specifically, the claimant can lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; she can stand and/or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday with regular breaks; she can sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday with regular breaks; she is limited to occasionally climbing ramps and stairs and never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to wetness, avoid even moderate exposure to respiratory irritants such as fumes and dust, and needs ready access to a restroom due to urinary retention and the need to self-catheterize. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine and repetitive tasks and can sustain occasional interaction with the general public.

Tr. 26. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not perform any of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R, §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, however, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a computer controlled color photo printer operator or assembler of small products I. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.l520(a)(4)(v), ...


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