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Andrus-Karker v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

March 27, 2018




         Plaintiff Amanda Andrus-Karker brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), 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 further proceedings.


         On June 23, 2011, plaintiff applied for SSI. She alleged disability beginning January 1, 2000. After plaintiffs application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held on July 10, 2013. At the hearing, plaintiff testified and was represented by an attorney. A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. On July 19, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying plaintiffs claim. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in the District of Oregon. On April 1, 2015, Magistrate Judge Paul Papak issued Findings and Recommendations ("F&R"), which recommended reversal of the ALJ's decision and remand to the agency for further proceedings. On June 2, 2015, District Judge Marco Hernandez issued an Order and Judgment, adopting the F&R, reversing and remanding for further proceedings.

         On remand, a hearing was held before the ALJ on May 19, 2016. A VE and a medical expert ("ME") testified at the hearing. On June 9, 2016, the ALJ denied plaintiffs claim for SSI. The Appeals Council did not review the case on its own motion. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the agency. Plaintiff then filed the present complaint with this Court.


         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." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         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 intermittently engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since June 23, 2011, but not through the entire period at issue. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b); §§ 416.971 et seq. At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments as of the alleged onset Dated: borderline intellectual functioning, dysthma, and posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD")/anxiety with social phobia. 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 capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); Id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to:

[p]erform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: she would be limited to simple, repetitive tasks requiring no more than occasional interaction with supervisors and no more than brief, superficial interaction with coworkers and the general public. This individual does not perform well in an independent work setting, and so would function and work best in a team setting. The claimant would also need to work in an environment where the work is repetitive in nature and her production speed would be increased gradually over time.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had no past relevant work history. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f); §§ 416.965. At step five, however, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a motel cleaner, laundry folder, or industrial cleaner. 20 C.F.R. §§ ...

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