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Severson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

March 29, 2018

TAMARA S. SEVERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          JAMES COON, SCOTT SELL, BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney

          REN ATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney

          KATHRYN A. MILLER Special Assistant United States Attorney Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MARK CLARKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tamara S. Severson ("Severson") seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI 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 is REVERSED and the case REMANDED for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Severson filed for SSI on November, 29, 2012, alleging disability as of December 23. 2010. Tr. 18. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a hearing was held on January 14, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"); Severson was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 38-72. On April 10. 2015, ALJ Vadim Mozyrsky issued a decision finding Severson not disabled. Tr. 18-30. Severson requested timely review of the ALJ's decision and, after the Appeals Council denied her request for review, filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.

         Factual Background

         Born in 1958, Severson was 52 years old on the disability onset date. Tr. 200. She graduated high school and completed office specialist training classes at the community college level. Tr. 169. She previously worked as a courier and performed general office work for a small business. Tr. 169. She alleges disability due to injuries to her spine, neck, and back, as well as "severe nerve pain." Tr. 168.

         On Severson's disability onset date, December 23, 2010, a vehicle backed into her parked car while she sat in the driver's seat. Tr. 254. Severson reported moderate and constant neck pain as a result of the accident. Tr. 254. Severson took time off her job as a courier, and upon her return, found she was unable to complete her normal duties due to pain and stress. Tr. 42.

         MRIs performed on January 12, 2011, and June 24, 2011, revealed "severe right neural foraminal narrowing, " as well as "moderate left neural foraminal narrowing'' at the C5-6 vertebra and moderate degenerative changes at the C5-6 vertebra. Tr. 454. On October 7, 2011, Dr. Darrell Brett, M.D.. performed an "anterior cervical discectomy. partial corpectomy. foraminotomy, and neural decompression" and a C5-6 "interbody" fusion on Severson's neck. Tr. 459.

         Severson returned to Dr. Brett for a one-year checkup, where she complained of "residual neck and interscapular pain with over-exertion or sustained or awkward neck positions." Tr. 288. Dr. Brett noted Severson's neck movement was reduced, but she had "no objective neurologic deficit, with preserved strength [and] sensation." Id. He noted that Tramadol should be used sparingly, and conservative measures like "ice, deep heat, ultrasound, massage, and gentle mobilization" would help curtail her symptoms, which were expected to arise chronically with over-exertion. Id. Functionally, Dr. Brett opined Severson could work in a "light-duty capacity. She should not lift or carry more than 24 [pounds], perform any repetitive or heavy exertion with the upper extremities, or maintain any awkward or stationary neck positions that aggravate her pain. These will be permanent occupational and recreational restrictions." Id. The ALJ gave great weight to Dr. Brett's assessment.

         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. § 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 ...


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