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Haines v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 27, 2018

GERALD K. HAINES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Katherine Tassinari, and Robert Baron, Harder, Wells, Baron & Manning, P.C., Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy 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

         Gerald 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 proceedings.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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).

         BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Application

         Born in 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.

         Mr. 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.

         B. The Sequential Analysis

         A 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 questions:

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 step four.
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. Id.

See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The 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.

         C. The ...


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