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Bartlett v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

March 28, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          KATHERINE L. EITENMILLER MARK A. MANNING Harder, Wells, Baron & Manning, P.C. BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney District of Oregon

          COURTNEY GARCIA Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Counsel Of Attorneys for Defendant


          Mark Clarke United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff David P. Bartlett ("Bartlett") seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on a careful review of the record, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and the case REMANDED for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Bartlett filed for DIB on November 13, 2012, alleging disability as of April 17, 2010. Tr. 19. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a hearing was held on September 18, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"); Bartlett was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 40-72. On November 13, 2014, ALJ John Michaelsen issued a decision finding Bartlett not disabled. Tr. 19-29. Bartlett requested timely review of the ALJ's decision and, after the Appeals Council denied his request for review. filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.

         Factual Background

         Born in 1963, Bartlett was 46 years old on the disability onset date. Tr. 28. He graduated high school, and took two years of college classes. Tr. 167. He previously worked as a public relations assistant, public affairs specialist, publicist, and automotive repair employee. Tr. 168. He alleges disability due to depression; sleeplessness; and high cholesterol. Tr. 575.

         Bartlett's PTSD and depression stem from a plane crash in November, 1996. Tr. 330-31. Bartlett. then a member of the United States Air Force, was invited on a training mission in California with 11 fellow service members. Id. He declined the invitation and the plane carrying his friends crashed, leaving only one survivor. Id. Three years after the crash. Bartlett attempted suicide and subsequently sought counseling to help his PTSD and depression. Tr. 332.

         Before his current application, Bartlett filed for disability and was denied on April 24. 2003; the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision. Tr. 19.

         On September 17, 2009, Bartlett checked himself into the emergency room for suicidal ideation; the hospital admitted him for six days to monitor and treat his depression Tr. 228. Bartlett received mental health treatment from the Veteran's Administration ("VA") from November 2010 until February 2013. Tr. 320-574.

         Disability 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. >J 423(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, 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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. § 4O4.l52O(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. § 404.1510. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 4O4.l52O(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. § 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(ii). Unless expected to result in death, an impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. § 4O4.l52O(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. £ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds beyond step three. 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. § 404.1520(e); 4O4.l545(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. § 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her ...

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