United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge
Shane Mason brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision denying his application for Title
II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). This
Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
October 2012, Mason filed his application for DIB. In June
2013, he then filed an application for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”). Later, in February 2015, he also
filed an application for child's insurance benefits
(“DAC”). After a hearing, an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) denied his application for DIB,
determining that Mason was not disabled. The applications for
SSI and DAC are not at issue before this Court. Because the
Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal
standards and supported by substantial evidence, it is
reviewing court shall affirm the decision of an ALJ if their
decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
“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.'” Hill v. Astrue,
698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine
whether substantial evidence exists, the district court must
review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both
the evidence that supports and detracts from the decision of
the ALJ. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th
Social Security Administration (“Administration”)
utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the
claimant to meet the first four steps. If the claimant
satisfies his burden with respect to the first four steps,
then the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's
burden is to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of
making an adjustment to other work after considering the
claimant's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
present case, the ALJ found that Mason was not disabled. He
first determined that Mason last met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2011,
making the period at issue January 1, 2010 (the alleged onset
date) through June 30, 2011 (the date last insured). Tr.
22-23. At step one of the evaluation, the ALJ
found that Mason engaged in substantial gainful activity from
May 2010 through September 2010. Tr. 23. At step two, the ALJ
determined that Mason had the following severe impairments: a
bipolar disorder versus a mood disorder; alcohol dependence,
in claimed remission; cannabis dependence, in claimed
remission; and polysubstance abuse, in claimed remission.
Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Mason did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 24.
moving to step four, the ALJ found that Mason had the RFC to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non-exertional limitations: Mason could
sustain concentration, persistence, and a pace for simple,
routine, repetitive work and occasionally more complex work;
he might have difficulty sustaining complex work on a
consistent basis; he was limited to work which did not
require work with the public on more than an occasional or
infrequent basis and; he worked best in a predictable work
environment. Tr. 25.
four, the ALJ found that Mason was unable to perform past
relevant work as a greenskeeper. Tr. 32. At step five, after
considering Mason's age, education, work experience, and
RFC, the ALJ determined that Mason was capable of performing
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy,
including as a janitor, commercial cleaner, and industrial
cleaner. Tr. 33. Having made this determination, the ALJ
concluded that during the period at issue Mason was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and
did not qualify for DIB. Id.
contends that the ALJ and other components of the
Administration mishandled his claims, depriving him of due
process. He also contends that the ALJ erred by (1) limiting
review to only evidence dated during the period at issue,
with regard to his DIB claim; (2) finding his five-month
seasonal job for the Forest Service was substantial gainful
activity; (3) finding he was not credible; (4) failing to
give substantial weight to the opinions of treating and
examining doctors and lay witness testimony and; (5) coming
up with an inadequate RFC. The Court addresses each objection
Management of Plaintiff's Claims and Due Process
Consolidation of claims
first argues that the ALJ and the other components of the
Administration deprived him of due process by mishandling his
claims. Pl.'s Br. 6, Dkt. # 18. Prior to the
administrative hearing, Mason's attorney asked the ALJ to
consolidate his DIB and DAC applications. Tr. 254. Then, in
the Administration's Notice of Hearing to Mason, the ALJ
stated that the “hearing concerns your application of
October 24, 2012, for a Period of Disability and Disability
Insurance Benefits . . . the hearing also concerns your
application of June 29, 2013, for Supplemental Security
Income.” Tr. 130.
at the hearing itself, the ALJ said that there was no SSI
application pending nor was there a DAC claim before him. Tr.
43-44. In his decision, the ALJ stated that he declined to
consider the SSI claim because (1) the SSI claim was
escalated to the hearing level without his consent, (2) the
Disability Determination Services determinations were based
only on evidence through the date last insured, and (3) the
Disability Determination Services psychological consultants
did not consider evidence pertinent to the SSI claim. Tr. 20.
The ALJ said that he declined to escalate the DAC claim to
the hearing level because Disability Determination Services
psychological consultants did not consider any evidence
related to DAC claim. Tr. 21.
argues that once the ALJ learned, after the hearing, that the
SSI and DAC claims were pending, the ALJ should have
consulted with Mason before remanding both claims, and
denying the DIB claim. Pl.'s Br. 7, Dkt. # 18.
the Administration's rules do not require an ALJ to join
pending claims, even where those claims share a common issue,
e.g. sharing an overlapping period of time and having the
same deciding issue. See SSI POMS DI 20101.025(C).
This rule is simply permissive; an ALJ may, but is not
required to, join claims that share a common issue.
See SSI POMS DI 20101.025(C)(2). Because an ALJ ...