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Kelley v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

March 26, 2018




         Plaintiff, Darlene Kelley (“Kelley”), seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 USC §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with FRCP 73 and 28 USC § 636(c). ECF #5. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED for immediate calculation and payment of benefits.


         Born in October 1964, Kelley was 46 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 100, 148. Kelley dropped out of high school, but after five attempts was able to obtain her GED in 1991, at the age of 27. Tr. 60. When she was in high school, Kelley was diagnosed with a learning disability in mathematics and received tutoring. Tr. 273. On August 3, 2012, Wayne Taubenfeld, Ph.D., performed a series of tests to evaluate Kelley's cognitive abilities. Tr. 272-92. Kelley scored below the 10th percentile in all areas tested on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition (“WAIS-IV”) examination. Tr. 275. Areas tested included: verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. Her math, reading, and writing skills were at middle school levels and her full scale IQ was 69, which is considered “extremely low.” Tr. 275, 277. Dr. Taubenfeld also noted that Kelley had low processing speed, poor executive functioning, and “very low levels” of memory. Tr. 285. He ultimately diagnosed Kelley with a variety of psychological disorders and “mild mental retardation.” Id.

         Although Kelley made several attempts to work after the alleged onset date, she explained that she was fired from each of those jobs due to her mental and physical impairments. Tr. 42-43, 56-57, 427.


         Kelley filed an application for DIB on January 7, 2013. Tr. 148-54.[2] She alleged disability beginning December 9, 2010, due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), a learning disability, anxiety, diabetes, neuropathy, and hypertension. Tr. 86. Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 104-07, 109-11. On April 30, 2015, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), wherein Kelley was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert. Tr. 31-70. On May 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Kelley not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 11-25. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, Kelley filed a complaint in this court. Tr. 1-5. The ALJ's decision is therefore the Commissioner's final decision subject to review. 20 CFR § 422.210.


         The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 USC § 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion and “‘may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)). The reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner when the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the decision. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Instead, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld if it is “supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Rounds v. Comm'r, 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted); see also Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035.


         Disability is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 USC § 423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. This sequential analysis is set forth in the Social Security regulations, 20 CFR § 404.1520, in Ninth Circuit case law, Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006) (discussing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)), and in the ALJ's decision in this case, Tr. 11-13.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Kelley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after the alleged onset date. Tr. 13.

         At step two, the ALJ found that Kelley has the following severe impairments: bilateral gastrocnemius equinus post-surgery, degenerative joint disease of the right knee, diabetes mellitus, peripheral neuropathy, obesity, ADHD, and borderline intellectual functioning. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found Kelley did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Tr. 14. The ALJ next assessed Kelley's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined that she could perform light work with the following limitations: she must be allowed to alternate between standing and sitting at will, but remaining on task while doing so; she is limited to frequent climbing of ramps and stairs and occasional climbing of ladders and scaffolds; she is limited to occasional exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts; she is limited to simple and ...

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