United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
AIKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jennifer Velez brings this action pursuant to the Social
Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner").
The Commissioner found plaintiff not disabled under the Act
and denied her application for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for
applied for SSI on May 16, 2012 and was denied on July 10,
2012. She was denied again upon reconsideration on Oct. 30,
2012. She subsequently appeared, unrepresented, at a healing
before an ALJ on June 20, 2014. The ALJ set the hearing over
so plaintiff could attend a consultative examination, The ALJ
reconvened the hearing on January 27, 2015; plaintiff
testified unrepresented, and a vocational expert
("VE") also testified. The ALJ issued her decision
on May 15, 2015, and after the Appeals Council denied review,
plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.
ALJ's disability determination should be upheld unless it
contains [harmful] legal error or is not supported by
substantial evidence." Garrison v. Colvin, 759
F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). "Substantial evidence
means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Id. (quoting Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)) (internal
quotation marks omitted). The record must be evaluated as a
whole, and the court must weigh "both the evidence that
supports and the evidence that detracts from the
Commissioner's conclusion[.]" Id. The court
"may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum
of supporting evidence." Id. 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." Edhmdv.
Massanah, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
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[J" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Secretary has established a five-step sequential evaluation
process for determining whether a person is disabled."
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (citing
20 C.F.R. §§ 404, 1520, 416.920). At step one, the
ALJ found plaintiff has not engaged in "substantial
gainful activity" since the alleged disability onset
date of Jan. 31, 2012, Tr, 18; 20 C.F.R. §§
4l6.92O(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had "the following severe impairments: morbid
obesity, degenerative disc disease status post-surgery, mild
disc bulge at ¶ 2-3, and chronic pedal edema secondary
to history of chronic deep vein thrombosis (DVT)." Tr.
18; see also 20 C.F.R. § 4l6.92O(a)(4)(ii),
(c). At step three, the ALJ determined 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. Tr. 19; see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 4l6, 92O(a)(4)(iii), (d).
The ALJ found plaintiff retained
the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 C[.F, R. §] 416.967(b) with exceptions.
She can lift and carry up to ten pounds frequently and 20
pounds occasionally. She can sit for two hours at a time, for
up to six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can stand for
30 minutes at a time, for up to two hours in an eight-hour
workday. She can walk for one hour, for up to four hours
total in an eight-hour workday. She can only occasionally
operate foot controls bilaterally. She can occasionally climb
ramps or stairs, and she can never climb ramps, ladders or
scaffolds. She can occasionally balance, stoop, knee[l],
crouch and crawl. She should not work around hazards,
including dangerous machinery, or unprotected heights, She
can have only occasional exposure to temperature extremes.
She also can only have occasional exposure to vibration.
Tr. 20; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e).
only period of gainful employment from the last fifteen years
is when she served as a caregiver for six months while her
mother was in hospice. In the written decision, the ALJ
briefly addressed plaintiffs past employment, saying
"her job entailed making sure [her mother] took her
medications and giving [her mother] meals, but [plaintiff]
did not prepare them. [Plaintiff] reported she did not do any
lifting and she mainly just spent time with her mother."
Tr. 23. At step four, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff
"is capable of performing past relevant work as a
companion, " linking plaintiffs work as a caregiver to
Dictionary of Occupation Titles number 309.677-010. Tr. 23.
Consequently, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled as of her
application date and denied her application for SSI. Tr. 24,
objects to the ALJ's finding with respect to step four
and claims that finding is not based on substantial evidence.
Plaintiffs argument is narrow: she does not challenge the
ALJ's determination that she was capable of returning to
the work she did while serving as her mother's caregiver.
Rather, her argument rests on her contention that the
companion work does not qualify as past relevant work because
she "did not perform substantial duties so as to render
this work substantial gainful activity."
PL's Opening Br. 4 (emphasis in original).
Social Security regulations define "[p]ast relevant
work" as "work that you have done within the past
15 years, that was substantial gainful activity, and that
lasted long enough for you to learn to do it." 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.960(b). "Substantial gainful activity"
is defined as "work activity that involves doing
significant physical or mental activities." 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.972(a). The burden falls on the plaintiff to
establish she cannot perform past relevant work. See
Pinto v. Massanari,249 F.3d 840, 844 (9th Cir. ...