Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fulsaas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 22, 2018

STEVEN TODD FULSAAS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          Honorable Paul Papak United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Steven Fulsaas ("Fulsaas") filed this action on February 21, 2017, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision finding him disabled only from August 30, 2012, through August 1, 2014, and therefore, denying portions of his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). This court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         Fulsaas argues that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALT") improperly rejected the medical opinions of Dr. Starr, Dr. Burns, Dr. Krause, and Dr. Ogisu. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision should be reversed and remanded for the immediate payment of benefits.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS FRAMEWORK

         To establish disability within the meaning of the Act, a claimant 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 claimant has made the requisite demonstration. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At the first four steps of the process, the burden of proof is on the claimant; only at the fifth and final step does the burden of proof shift to the Commissioner, See Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

         At the first step, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") considers the claimant's work activity, if any. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 140; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the ALJ finds that the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claimant will be found not disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 140;see also20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), 416.920(b). Otherwise, the evaluation proceeds to the second step.

         At the second step, the ALJ considers the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. SeeBowen, 482 U.S. at 140-41 ;see also20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(h). An impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities and is expected to persist for a period of twelve months or longer. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141;see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). The ability to perform basic work activities is defined as "the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(b); see also Bowen, 482 U.S, at 141. If the ALJ finds that the claimant's impairments are not severe or do not meet the duration requirement, the claimant will be found not disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c). Nevertheless, it is well established that "the step-two inquiry is a de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless claims." Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Bowen, 482 U.S. at 153- 54). "An impairment or combination of impairments can be found 'not severe1 only if the evidence establishes a slight abnormality that has 'no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work.'" Id. (quoting SSR 85-28, available at 1985 WL 56856).

         If the claimant's impairments are severe, the evaluation will proceed to the third step, at which the ALJ determines whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d). If the claimant's impairments are equivalent to one of the impairments enumerated in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, the claimant will conclusively be found disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d).

         If the claimant's impairments are not equivalent to one of the enumerated impairments, the ALJ is required to assess the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in the claimant's case record. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The RFC is an estimate of the claimant's capacity to perform sustained, work-related, physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis, despite the limitations imposed by the claimant's impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a). "A 'regular and continuing basis' means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule." SSR 96-8p, available at 1996 WL 374184.

         At the fourth step, the ALJ considers the RFC in relation to the claimant's past relevant work. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141 ;see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If, in light of the claimant's RFC, the ALJ determines that the claimant can still perform his or her past relevant work, the claimant will be found not disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f). In the event the claimant is no longer capable of performing his or her past relevant work, the evaluation will proceed to the fifth and final step, at which the burden of proof is, for the first time, on the Commissioner.

         At the fifth step, the ALJ considers the RFC in relation to the claimant's age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can perform any jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. See Bowen,, 482 U.S. at 142;see also 20 C.F.R. 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g), 416.960(c), 416.966. If the Commissioner meets her burden to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of performing jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is conclusively found not to be disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 142; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g), 416.960(c), 416.966. A claimant will be found entitled to benefits if the Commissioner fails to meet his burden at the fifth step. See id; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A reviewing court must affirm an ALJ's decision if the ALJ applied proper legal standards and his or her findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Batson v. Comm'r for Soc. Sec. Admin,, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir, 2004). "'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." Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007), citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006).

         The court must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id., citing Reddick v. Chafer, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See id., citing Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882; see also Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). If the ALJ's interpretation of the evidence is rational, it is immaterial that the evidence may be "susceptible [of] more than one rational interpretation." Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989), citing Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984).

         BACKGROUND

         Fulsaas was born in 1964. Tr. 75. He dropped out of high school after 10th grade and subsequently obtained his GED in 1981. Tr. 283, 744. Prior to his claimed disability onset date of February 26, 2011, Fulsaas had past relevant work experience as a furniture mover. Tr. 28, 77.

         Fulsaas has been diagnosed with anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), panic disorder, psychosis, intermittent explosive disorder, and bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Tr. 647, 743, 755, 761. His treating physician, Dr. Fickle, concluded that Fulsaas' psychotic symptoms appeared to be "delusional and paranoid in nature." Tr. 761. Fulsaas suffers from suicidal ideations and has attempted suicide three times. Tr. 763, 781, 800, 1018, 1243, 1405, 1700. Dr. Krause determined that Fulsaas continued to be a suicide risk. Tr. 801. Fulsaas1 suicidal thoughts reached the point that he went to a bridge multiple times and sat there for an hour contemplating suicide. Tr. 800.

         In December, 2012, Fulsaas reported a very difficult six week struggle with depression which resulted in near-total isolation for that time period and included two "serious bouts of [suicidal ideation]." Tr. 781. Fulsaas explained that when he has depression he barely eats enough to stay alive. Tr. 843. A month later, Fulsaas reported that despite taking his medications, his anxiety was increasing and he had been isolating himself. Tr. 800. In February, 2013, Fulsaas reported paranoia about people knowing what he was thinking and presented at an appointment with "garbled speech." Tr. 815, 834. Two months later, Fulsaas was suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations. Tr. 846-47, 1218. He reported that the hallucinations can cause him to tear "everything up" in his room. Tr. 846. Fulsaas was also struggling with depression. 1218.

         As of May 23, 2013, Fulsaas was still suffering from auditory hallucinations as well as paranoia that people were out to get him. Tr. 1244. Throughout 2013 and 2014, Fulsaas continued to grapple with ongoing psychotic symptoms including paranoid delusions, hallucinations, homicidal ideations, and suicidal ideations. Tr. 1018, 1274, 1287, 1290, 1300, 1322, 1339, 1364, 1369, 1405, 1496, 1522, 1687, 1700, 1702, 1704, 1711, 1716, 1736. During that time, Fulsaas was highly medicated and closely monitored, Tr. 762, 880, 1021, 1028, 1238, 1252, 1290.

         A treating provider observed Fulsaas was severely depressed, experiencing frequent suicidal ideations, paranoia, and auditory hallucinations. Tr. 1700. In March, 2015, Dr. Starr reported that Fulsaas was suffering from paranoid delusions, "frequently hearing voices and noises that are not there." Tr. 1831. Dr. Stair also observed that Fulsaas continued to struggle with anxiety and depression, noting that "[a]t his worst [Fulsaas] experiences crippling suicidal ideation." Id.

         SUMMARY OF ALJ FINDINGS

         At the first step of the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Fulsaas had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 30, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.