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Kelly v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 30, 2018


          George J. Wall, Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie, Assistant United States Attorney, Jeffrey E. Staples, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Of Attorneys for Defendant.


          Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge.

         Zachariah Kelly (“Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the second denial of his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for calculation and payment of benefits.


         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); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Bray v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039).

         Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a rational reading of the record, and this Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Batson v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193, 1196 (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) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did not rely. Id; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at 1226.


         A. Plaintiff's Application

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on December 2, 2010, alleging disability due to his autism, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and comprehension and communication deficits. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of January 19, 2010. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially on May 3, 2011, and upon reconsideration on December 7, 2011. Upon notice of the denial, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The hearing occurred on May 9, 2013. The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled, relying on Plaintiff's work history, the objective medical evidence, and the whole of the record evidence to find Plaintiff.

         On November 11, 2013, Plaintiff submitted new evidence concerning Plaintiff's accommodations at his past relevant work. Plaintiff also submitted documents from the Oregon Department of Corrections and a psychological evaluation by Dr. Shane P. Haydon, Ph.D. Despite this new evidence, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 10, 2014. Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint on January 7, 2015, seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his DIB and SSI. This Court issued an Opinion and Order on November 25, 2015, finding that the new evidence showed that Plaintiff's previous work experience was a sheltered work environment and that the ALJ's assessment of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) was not based on substantial evidence. The Court remanded for reformulation of the RFC in light of the new evidence.

         Plaintiff received another administrative hearing, which occurred on November 22, 2016. On December 30, 2016, the second ALJ issued a decision that considered the new evidence but concluded that the evidence still did not show that Plaintiff's previous relevant work was sheltered and did not affect the underlying RFC or disability determination. The ALJ adopted the 2013 findings in their entirety and concluded that Plaintiff was “not disabled.” Plaintiff subsequently filed this claim for review of the second ALJ's decision, which is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         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. § 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 Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (DIB), 416.920 (SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 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. §§ 404.1510, 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), ...

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