Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

James v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 8, 2018

ANNAH JAMES, Survivor of David Lee Lang, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          PAUL PAPAK JUDGE

         Plaintiff Annah James on behalf of David Lang seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Lang's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). This court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with FRCP 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Docket No. 14. The Court has considered all of the parties' briefs and all of the evidence in the administrative record. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for an i mmediate payment of benefits.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS FRAMEWORK

         To establish disability within the meaning of the Act, a 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 claimant has made the requisite demonstration. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At the first four steps of the process, the burden of proof is on the claimant; only at the fifth and final step does the burden of proof shift to the Commissioner. See Tackeit v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

         At the first step, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") considers the claimant's work activity, if any. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 140; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the ALJ finds that the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claimant will be found not « disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 140; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 404.1520(b). Otherwise, the evaluation will proceed to the second step.

         At the second step, the ALJ considers the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 140-41; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(h). An impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities and is expected to persist for a period of twelve months or longer. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 CF.R. § 404.1520(c). The ability to perform basic work activities is defined as "the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1522(b); see also Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141. If the ALJ finds that the claimant's impairments are not severe or do not meet the duration requirement, the claimant will be found not disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(h), 404.1520(c).

         If the claimant's impairments are severe, the evaluation will proceed to the third step, at which the ALJ determines whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity, " Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(iii), 404.1520(d). If the claimant's impairments are equivalent to one of the impairments enumerated in 20 C.F.R, § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, the claimant will conclusively be found disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1520(d).

         If the claimant's impairments are not equivalent to one of the enumerated impairments, the ALJ is required to assess the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in the claimant's case record. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The RFC is an estimate of the claimant's capacity to perform sustained, work-related, physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis, [1] despite the limitations imposed by the claimant's impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a); see also SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1.

         At the fourth step of the evaluation process, the ALJ considers the RFC in relation to the claimant's past relevant work. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If, in light of the claimant's RFC, the ALJ determines that the claimant can still perform his or her past relevant work, the claimant will be found not disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f). In the event the claimant is no longer capable of performing his or her past relevant work, the evaluation will proceed to the fifth and final step, at which the burden of proof is, for the first time, on the Commissioner.

         At the fifth step of the evaluation process, the ALJ considers the RFC in relation to the claimant's age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can perform any jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 142; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c), 404.1566. If the Commissioner meets its burden to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of performing jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is conclusively found not to be disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 142; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c), 404.1566. A claimant will be found entitled to benefits if the Commissioner fails to meet his burden at the fifth step. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 142; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c), 404.1566.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A reviewing court must affirm an ALJ's decision if the ALJ applied proper legal standards and his findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See 42 U.S.C. § .405(g); see also Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "'Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Asirue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)).

         The court must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. (citing Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998)). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Id. (citing Robbins, 466 F, 3d at 882); see also Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F, 3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). If the ALJ's interpretation of the evidence is rational, it is immaterial that the evidence may be "susceptible [of] more than one rational interpretation." Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F, 2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984)).

         BACKGROUND

         Born in 1952, Lang was 58 years old on the amended alleged disability onset date of January 1, 2011, and 62 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 40-41, 205.[2] He graduated from high school and had past relevant work experience as a shamanic practitioner. Tr, 49, 292. On January 30, 2013, Lang applied for DIB, originally alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2009. Tr. 274, He alleged disability due to fibromyalgia, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, back injuries, glaucoma, degenerative back disease, scoliosis, trigeminal neuralgia, and sleep apnea. Tr.291.

         Lang's application for DIB was denied initially and on reconsideration, and on December 26, 2013, he requested a hearing before an ALJ. Tr. 113-16, 120-24. On October 8, 2015, a hearing was conducted before ALJ Robert Spaulding; at which Lang, his counsel, and Mark Mann, a Vocational Expert ("VE"), were present. Tr. 33-87. At the hearing, Lang amended his alleged onset date to January 1, 2011. Tr. 40. On November 4, 2015, the ALJ denied Lang's application for DIB, Tr. 16-27, and Lang timely requested review of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 11. On February 17, 2017, the Appeals Council issued a decision finding Lang not disabled under the Act, although for a different reason than the ALJ provided in his decision. Tr. 1-7.[3] Consequently, the Appeals Council's decision, including the portions of the ALJ's findings adopted by the Appeals Council, became the Administration's final order for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a); see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). This action followed.

         SUMMARY OF THE COMMISSIONER'S FINDINGS

         At the first step of the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found Lang did not engage in substantial gainful activity at any time during the period from the amended alleged onset date of January 1, 2011, through the date of the hearing. Tr. 18.

         At the second step, the ALJ found Lang had the following severe impairments: chronic pain syndrome, diabetes mellitus, and diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Id. The ALJ found Lang's upper lumbar and lumbosacral spondylosis, sleep apnea, and depression were not severe impairments. Id. The ALJ also found Lang's fibromyalgia was not diagnosed "in a proper manner to be valid." Tr. 24.

         At the third step, the ALJ found that none of Lang's impairments was the equivalent of any of the impairments enumerated in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt P, App. 1. Tr. 20. The ALJ therefore conducted an assessment of Lang's RFC. Specifically, the ALJ found that Lang had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with the following additional limitations: "[T]he claimant is able to occasionally climb ramps and stairs but no climbing ladders or scaffolds; is able to frequently balance and stoop; is able to occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl; and should have only occasional exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts." Tr. 20-26. In reaching this finding, the ALJ stated that he considered all ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.