United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
BETTY J. SMITH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
Wilborn Wilborn Law Office, P.C. Attorney for Plaintiff
Williams United States Attorney Renata Gowie Renata Gowie
Assistant United States Attorney
A. Boden Special Assistant United States Attorney
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Betty J. Smith brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382(c)(3)). The issues before the Court are whether
the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by:
(1) discounting Plaintiff's symptom testimony; (2)
discounting the opinion of Nancy H. Maloney, M.D., an
examining physician; and (3) discounting the opinion of
Plaintiff's physical therapist, Kenneth Smith, LPT. As a
result of these errors, Plaintiff contends the ALJ's
assessment of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) was insufficient and, therefore, the
vocational hypothetical presented to the vocational expert at
the hearing was incomplete. Because the ALJ improperly
discredited testimony, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's final decision and remands this case for
further proceedings consistent with this Opinion and Order.
applied for SSI on June 6, 2011, alleging a disability onset
date of May 9, 2011. Tr. 263, 298. Plaintiff's application
was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Plaintiff's first administrative hearing was held on
February 18, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge Tom L.
Morris. Tr. 71. ALJ Morris denied Plaintiff's claim in a
written decision issued on May 6, 2014. Tr. 135-50. The
Appeals Council reversed ALJ Morris's decision and
remanded back to the ALJ to conduct another hearing and issue
a new decision. Tr. 151-55.
remand from the Appeals Council ALJ Katherine Weatherly
conducted a hearing on April 22, 2016, at which Plaintiff
appeared with counsel. Tr. 43-70. On May 19, 2016, ALJ
Weatherly denied Plaintiff's claim in a written decision.
Tr. 19-30. On February 17, 2017, the Appeals Council declined
review, rendering ALJ Weatherly's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3.
claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a
five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant
bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.
first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so,
the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). At step
two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a
“medically severe impairment or combination of
impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not
three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's
impairments, 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 141; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). If so, the claimant
is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner
proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant,
despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional
capacity to perform “past relevant work.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant
is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant
work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five,
the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform
other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets its
burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other
work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.966.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity between June 6, 2011, and January 1, 2014,
the alleged period of disability. Tr. 22.
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: a fractured right humerus, status-post right
reverse shoulder arthroplasty, and osteoperosis. Tr. 22- 23.
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments or
combination of impairments did not meet or equal the severity
of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 23.
step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform a reduced range of light work with the following
She could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently. She could stand and/or walk with normal breaks
for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and she
could sit with normal breaks for a total of about 6 hours in
an 8-hour workday. She could never overhead reach with the
right arm and could perform no more than frequent reaching at
waist level with her right arm. She had no limitation of the
left upper extremity. She could occasionally climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds, and she could ...