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Phillips v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 16, 2018

Ann M. Phillips, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          TIM WILBORN Wilborn Law Office, P.C. Of Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney District of Oregon

          MARTHA A. BODEN Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Counsel

          OPINION AND ORDER

          John V. Acosta United States Magistrate Judge.

         Ann Mary Phillips ("Phillips") seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and 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 REMANDED for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Phillips filed for DIB and SSI on August 8, 2012, alleging disability as of January 1, 1996, due to major depression, obesity, bi-polar disorder, arthritis, and vein occlusion of the left eye. Tr. 274. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 34. A video hearing was held on February 9, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"); Phillips was represented by a non-attorney representative and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 72-91. On May 7, 2015, ALJ Marilyn Mauer issued a decision finding Phillips not disabled. Tr. 34-45. Phillips 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 1964, Phillips was 31 years old on the disability onset date. Tr. 43. She dropped out of high school in the ninth grade but later obtained her GED. Tr. 275, 604. She previously worked as a general laborer and housekeeper. Tr. 275.

         Standard of Review

         The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant 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. §§ 404.1502 and 416.920. First, the Commissioner considers whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c); 4l6.92O(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d); 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f); 404.920(f); 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can work, he is not disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.

         At step five, the Commissioner must demonstrate that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g); 416.960(c). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566; 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The ...


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