United States District Court, D. Oregon
GERALD K. HAINES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Katherine Tassinari, and Robert Baron, Harder, Wells, Baron
& Manning, P.C., Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney; United States
Attorney's Office, Heather L. Griffith, Special Assistant
United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social
Security Administration, Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. SIMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Haines seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Because the
Commissioner's decision was not based on the proper legal
standards and the findings were not supported by substantial
evidence, the decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further
District Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings
are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Molina v. Astrue, 673 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th
Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion” and is more than a “mere
scintilla” of the evidence but less than a
preponderance. Id. at 1110-11 (quotation omitted).
The Court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they
“are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record[, ]” even if the evidence is susceptible to
multiple rational interpretations. Id. at 1110. The
Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A]
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d
625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted).
May 1964, Mr. Haines was 31 years old on the alleged
disability onset date and 50 years old at the time of the
administrative hearing. AR 87-88. He speaks English, and
indicated he obtained his GED in 1994. AR 189. He alleges
disability due to PTSD, depression, anxiety, and seizure
disorder. AR 88.
Haines previously received SSI benefits following a fully
favorable administrative law judge (“ALJ”)
decision on December 15, 2006, in which a prior ALJ found Mr.
Haines disabled based on dysthymia, posttraumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), and personality disorder,
beginning August 27, 1999. Tr. 265-69. Mr. Haines'
benefits were terminated when he was incarcerated for 34
months following a domestic violence conviction. Tr. 47-48;
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1325, 416.1335. Mr.
Haines filed a new application for SSI in October 2012,
alleging disability onset on September 15, 1995. AR 87. The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and
Mr. Haines timely requested a hearing before an ALJ which was
held on January 22, 2015. AR 42-85. After the hearing, ALJ
John Michaelson found Mr. Haines not disabled in a decision
dated April 9, 2015. AR 19-35. That decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
his request for review. Tr. 1-3. Mr. Haines now seeks review
in this Court.
The Sequential Analysis
claimant is disabled if he or 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. §
432(d)(1)(A). “Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act.” Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is
potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The
five-step sequential process asks the following series of
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). This
activity is work involving significant mental or physical
duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 419.910. If the claimant is performing such
work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe”
under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). An impairment or combination of
impairments is “severe” if it significantly
limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(a). Unless
expected to result in death, this impairment must have lasted
or be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12
months. 20 C.F.R. § 416.909. If the claimant does not
have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If
the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the
listed impairments, the analysis continues. At that point,
the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to
assess and determine the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”). This is an
assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may
still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ
determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to
4. Can the claimant perform his or her “past relevant
work” with this RFC assessment? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work,
the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.960(c). If the
claimant cannot perform such work, he or she is disabled.
See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954
(9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 953; see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999); Yuckert, 482 U.S.
at 140-41. The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step
five. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100. At step five, the
Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, “taking into consideration the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
experience.” Id.; see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.966 (describing “work which exists in the
national economy”). If the Commissioner fails to meet
this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves that
the claimant is able to perform other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is
not disabled. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54;
Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.