United States District Court, D. Oregon
WILBORN Of Attorney for plaintiff
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon RENATA
GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney, ALEXIS L. TOMA
Special Assistant United States Attorney Of Attorneys for
OPINION AND ORDER
V. ACOSTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
M. Smith ("plaintiff) seeks judicial review of a final
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title
II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). This court
has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on a careful
review of the record, the Commissioner's decision is
reversed, and this case is remanded for payment of benefits.
Plaintiff applied for DIB on October 8, 2015, alleging
disability as of November 1, 2013, due to posttraumatic
stress disorder ("PTSD"), traumatic brain injury
("TBI"), cervical degenerative joint and disc
disease, low back strain, bilateral knee patellofemoral
syndrome, and right upper extremity radiculopathy. (Tr.
77-78.) His application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. (Tr. 77, 93.) A hearing convened on May 13,
2016, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
(Tr. 47-76.) On September 8, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision
finding plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 27-39.) Plaintiff timely
requested review of the AL J's decision and, after the
Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in
this court. (Tr. 1-3.)
on March 2, 1980, plaintiff was 33 years old on the alleged
onset date of disability and 3 6 years old on the date of the
hearing. (Tr. 77, 93.) Plaintiff is a high school graduate
and attended two years of college, completing an
associate's degree in auto mechanics. (Tr. 204.)
court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is
based on proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock
v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial
evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal
quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
[Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). "Where
the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a
denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the
ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149,
1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the 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).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 42 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. First, the Commissioner determines whether a
claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful
activity;" if so, the claimant is not disabled.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §
two, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant has a
"medically severe impairment or combination of
impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If not, the claimant is not
disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant's
impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed
impairments that the Secretary acknowledges are so severe as
to preclude substantial gainful activity." Id;
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the claimant is presumed
disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant still
can perform "past relevant work." Yuckert,
482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the
claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she cannot perform
past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can
perform other work existing in significant numbers in the
national or local economy. Id., at 142; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden,
the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.
one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 29.) At
step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: mild TBI; PTSD; mild lumbar and cervical
degenerative disc disease; mild bilateral knee
osteoarthritis; migraines; obesity; a somatic symptom
disorder; depression; and right shoulder dislocation.
Id., At step three, the ALJ found that the plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled one of a number of impairments that
are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.
the ALJ continued the sequential evaluation process to
determine how plaintiffs medical limitations affected her
ability to work. The ALJ resolved that plaintiff had the
following residual functional capacity ("RFC"):
[He can] perform light work . . . except he can lift 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently . .. sit, stand
and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour day . . .
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds . . . occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch,
but never crawl... occasionally reach overhead with the
bilateral upper extremities . . . must avoid concentrated
exposure to noise greater than SCODOT level III . . . must
avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and workplace
hazards . . . can understand, remember, and carry out simple,
routine, and repetitive tasks that can be learned in 30 days
or less ... can tolerate no public contact. .. can tolerate
only occasional incidental coworker contact with no group
tasks . . ...