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Walker-Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

February 15, 2018

DAYDRENA JASLIN WALKER-WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ann Aiken United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Daydrena Jaslin Walker-Williams 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 application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for immediate payment of benefits.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 24, 2012, plaintiff applied for SSI. She alleged disability beginning August 1, 2012, due to back pain, shoulder pain, obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and intellectual disability. In 2013, Plaintiffs application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On March 4, 2015, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). At the hearing, plaintiff testified and was represented by an attorney. A vocational expert also testified.

         The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued April 1, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed the present complaint.

         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." Edhmd 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 application date, September 24, 2012. 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: obesity, back pain, and borderline intellectual functioning. Tr. 19; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); id §§ 416.920(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 §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacities ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found the plaintiff could perform medium work, except that she "is able to do simple routine work consistent with unskilled work." Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R. 416.967(c) At step four, the ALJ concluded the plaintiff had no past relevant work. Tr. 27; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f); id §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a sandwich maker or fast food worker. Tr. 28; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g)(1). Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied her application for SSI.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ committed two harmful legal errors in determining that she was not disabled. First, plaintiff argues the ALJ's determination that the plaintiff did not meet or medically equal the criteria of Listing 12.05C was in error. Second, plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred by failing to incorporate the assessment of State psychologist Dr. Holmes, despite affording it substantial weight.

         I. Listing ...


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