United States District Court, D. Oregon
Wilborn, Wilborn Law Office, P.C., Attorney for Plaintiff
Williams United States Attorney Renata Gowie Assistant United
Michael Howard Social Security Administration Attorneys for
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Teresa Annis brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382(c)(3)). The issue before the Court is whether the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) provided clear
and convincing reasons for discounting the uncontradicted
opinion of Plaintiff's examining physician, Foy
White-Chu, MD. If the ALJ's decision was in error, then
the Court must also determine whether remand for further
administrative proceedings or an immediate award of benefits
is appropriate. Because the ALJ improperly discredited Dr.
White-Chu's testimony that, when credited as true, would
require awarding benefits, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's final decision and remands this case for
an immediate award of benefits.
case has an extraordinarily lengthy history. Plaintiff filed
her applications for DIB and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits on December 9, 2004. Tr. 73-75;
577-78. Plaintiff's applications were denied at the
initial and reconsideration levels. Plaintiff's first
administrative hearing was held before ALJ John J. Madden,
Jr. on July 12, 2007. Tr. 1186. ALJ Madden issued a decision
on August 22, 2007, finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr.
18-30. The Appeals Counsel declined to grant review of the
ALJ's decision. Tr. 9-11. Plaintiff then filed a civil
action in the United Stated District Court for the District
of Oregon on October 15, 2009. Upon the parties'
stipulated motion for remand, United Stated District Court
Judge Malcom Marsh remanded the case for further
administrative proceedings. Tr. 668-71.
September 8, 2010, upon first remand, ALJ Madden issued a
second decision once again finding Plaintiff not disabled.
Tr. 648-65. The Appeals Council declined to accept review of
Plaintiff's case. Tr. 641-46. Plaintiff then filed her
second civil action in the District of Oregon. Judge Marsh
affirmed the ALJ's decision and Plaintiff appealed to the
Ninth Circuit. Tr. 918. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case
for further proceedings and directed the district court to
instruct the ALJ to reconsider Dr. White-Chu's testimony.
14, 2016, upon second remand, ALJ John Michaelsen issued a
decision finding Plaintiff disabled as of her fifty-fifth
birthday on November 28, 2011. Tr. 890. That decision made
Plaintiff eligible for SSI benefits but not SSDI benefits
because her insured status for DIB expired on December 31,
2010. Tr. 889-890. The Appeals Council denied review,
rendering ALJ Michaelsen's decision final. Tr. 860-77.
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.
claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a
five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant
bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.
first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so,
the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines whether
the claimant has a “medically severe impairment or
combination of impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S.
at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If
not, the claimant is not disabled.
three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's
impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal
“one of a number of listed impairments that the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482
U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if
not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant,
despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the
claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must
establish that the claimant can perform other work.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the
Commissioner meets its burden and proves ...