United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
WYLIE C. CAGLE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Aiken United States District Judge
Wylie C. Cagle, brings this action pursuant to the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied
plaintiffs applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for
March 2013, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. He alleged
disability beginning September 10, 2008. In 1982, plaintiff
had a traumatic injury in which his left hand was completely
severed; it was later surgically reattached. His disability
application was based on several issues related to that
injury (arthritis, weakness, and caipal tunnel syndrome in
his left hand), as well as on sciatic nerve issues in his
right leg, abdominal pain, chest pains, generalized pain,
fatigue, depression, and prediabetes. Plaintiffs applications
were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On July 22,
2015, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. At the
hearing, plaintiff testified and was represented by an
attorney. Through his attorney, plaintiff amended his
disability onset date to May 18, 2013, his fiftieth birthday,
and the day on which he was reclassified as an individual
closely approaching advanced age under the Social Security
regulations. A vocational expert also testified. The ALJ
found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued
September 25, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied review,
plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based upon proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231
(9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is more than a
mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Gutierrez v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir.
2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must
weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence
that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes
v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the
evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the
Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner
must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlund
v. Massanari 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
initial burden of proof rests upon plaintiff to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, plaintiff 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).
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. §
404.1520(a)(4); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step
one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in
"substantial gainful activity" since the alleged
disability onset date. Tr. 21; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. §§
416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: "osteoarthritis or
degenerative joint disease; obesity; left carpal tunnel
syndrome; and depression!.]" Tr. 21; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); id
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c). The ALJ considered the
record evidence of diabetes but concluded it was not a severe
impairment because "[t]he overall record indicates that
the claimant was not diagnosed with diabetes until February
2014, well after his amended onset date of disability, and
once he was diagnosed he learned quickly to control his
symptoms with diet, exercise and compliance with prescribed
medication." Tr. 22.
three, the ALJ determined plaintiffs impairments, whether
considered singly or in combination, did not meet or equal
"one of the listed impairments" that the
Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity. Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. §§
416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d). The ALJ found plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
perform less than light work as defined in 20 CFR 404,
1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant is further limited to no
more than occasional climbing, and no more than occasional
pushing, pulling, handling, grasping and fingering with his
left upper extremity. The claimant would also be limited to
jobs where he has no more than occasional interaction with
coworkers and the general public.
Tr. 25; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id §
416.920(e). At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could
not perform any of his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f); id.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, the ALJ
found that plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy, such as mold
machine attendant and stenciler. Accordingly, the ALJ found
plaintiff not disabled and denied his applications for
contends that the Commissioner committed three harmful errors
in evaluating his application for disability benefits. First,
plaintiff argues that the post-hearing opinion of his
treating physician, Molly Tveite, M.D., establishes that the
ALJ's evaluation of plaintiff s RFC and conclusion at
step five are not supported by substantial evidence. Second,
plaintiff contends that the ALJ impermissibly gave little
weight to his testimony about his symptoms without providing
clear and convincing reasons for doing so. Finally, plaintiff
avers that the ALJ erred in failing to deem his diabetic
neuropathy a severe impairment at step two, leading to
additional errors in ...