United States District Court, D. Oregon
Merrill Schneider, Schneider, Kerr, & Robichaux, Of
Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata A. Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, United States
Attorney's Office, Michael Howard, Special Assistant
United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social
Security Administration, Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge
Ward (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. The
administrative law judge's (“ALJ's”)
opinion is not based on the proper legal standards and the
findings are not supported by substantial evidence. Moreover,
pursuant to the grid rules Plaintiff is disabled as of
November 30, 2009. It is not clear, however, whether
Plaintiff was disabled during the period of December 31, 2008
to November 30, 2009. Therefore, the Commissioner's
decision is REVERSED and REMANDED in part for immediate
calculation of benefits beginning November 30, 2009, and in
part for further proceedings with regard to the period from
December 31, 2008 to November 30, 2009.
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); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence means more than
a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.”
Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d
1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. (quoting Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039).
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be
upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a
rational reading of the record, and this Court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190,
1193, 1196 (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) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th PAGE 2 - OPINION &
ORDER Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted)). A reviewing
court, however, may not affirm the Commissioner on a ground
upon which the Commissioner did not rely. Id.;
see also Bray, 554 F.3d at 1226.
Plaintiff's second appeal to the district court. In
Ward v. Colvin, No. 3:14-cv-01162-HZ, 2015 WL
5032038, *5-7 (D. Or. Aug. 25, 2015) (“Ward
I”), the Court remanded for further proceedings so
the ALJ could address the medical opinion of Dr. Cogburn,
which had been submitted as additional evidence to the
Appeals Council. The Court in Ward I also determined
that although the ALJ's interpretation of Dr. Labs'
opinion was reasonable based on “the evidence in the
record at the time, ” Dr. Cogburn's opinion
provided evidence that undermined the ALJ's reasons for
discounting Dr. Labs' opinion. Id. at *5. The
Court directed the ALJ to address Dr. Cogburn's opinion
and reconsider Dr. Labs' opinion in light of the evidence
provided by Dr. Cogburn.
January 8, 2016, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the
same ALJ. AR 914-18. The Court notes that prior to remand,
Plaintiff had filed another claim for DIB and SSI, and on
January 28, 2015, Plaintiff was determined to have been
disabled beginning June 1, 2014. AR 821. On remand, the ALJ
convened a second hearing, which was held on August 18, 2016.
AR 842-67. In a written decision issued on September 8, 2016,
the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process,
and found that Plaintiff was not disabled from December 31,
2008, through June 1, 2014. AR 821-34. Plaintiff appealed the
ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration
Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's petition for
review, making the ALJ's order the final agency order.
Plaintiff timely appealed.
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. §
423(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, 416.920; Bowen
v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is
potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential
process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R.§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(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, 416.910. If the
claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§