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Claussen v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 15, 2018

v. KRISTE ANDREA CLAUSSEN, Plaintiff, NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Kriste Andrea Claussen 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"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.


         In September 2011, plaintiff applied for DIB. She alleged disability beginning September 16, 2011, due to disc protrusion and degeneration, foraminal stenosis, shoulder impingement, arthritis, musculoskeletal pain, atrial fibrillation, sleep apnea, anxiety, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome. Plaintiffs application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On September 17, 2013, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. On October 13, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. On March 20, 2015, the Appeals Council remanded for further proceedings. The issue was that plaintiffs last insured date had been calculated improperly and so the ALJ's decision did not address the entire purported disability period. On October 26, 2015, plaintiff appeared at a second hearing for the ALJ. On January 8, 2016, the ALJ issued a second decision, again finding plaintiff not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.


         The 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." Edliind v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         The 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).

         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. § 404.1520(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.l520(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "status post left shoulder rotator cuff surgery; cervical degenerative disc disease; a history of fibromyalgia; right hand pain secondary to probable osteoarthritis; borderline obesity; and a history of anxiety with occasional panic attacks." Tr. 21; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.l520(a)(4)(ii), (c).

         At step 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. 22; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.l520(a)(4)(iii), (d). The ALJ found plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to

perform a reduced range of light work with the following additional limitations. She is further limited to no more than occasional crawling and climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She is also limited to no more than occasional overhead reaching bilaterally. She is limited to no more than occasional pushing and pulling with her left upper extremity. She is limited to no more than frequent handling, grasping, fingering, and feeling with her right hand. She is also limited to simple, repetitive, routine tasks requiring no more than occasional interaction with co-workers and the general public.

Tr. 24; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not perform any of her past relevant work as a waitress or customer service representative because "the demands of [that] work exceed either the lifting and carrying restrictions or the simple work requirement contained in the [RFC]." Tr. 31; 20 C.F.R. §§ 4O4.l52O(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 shipping-and-receiving weigher, counter clerk, and usher/public attendant. 20 ...

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