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Kevin S. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 19, 2018

KEVIN S., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Drew L. Johnson and Kathryn Tassinari, Drew L. Johnson, P.C., 1700 Valley River Drive, Eugene, OR 97401. Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, 1000 S.W. Third Avenue, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97204; Ryan Lu, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social Security Administration, 701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2900 M/S 221A, Seattle, WA 98104. Of Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael H. Simon, District Judge.

         Kevin S. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for an immediate award of benefits.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Application

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on September 4, 2013, alleging disability as of April 4, 2012. On April 4, 2012, at the age of 51, Plaintiff experienced a left frontoparietal stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident. Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled by the residuals of that stroke, which include cognitive and speech changes and major vascular neurocognitive disorder. Prior to his stroke, Plaintiff was the store manager at Jamba World Crafts where he had full responsibility for the day-to-day operations of his store. Approximately six months after his stroke, Plaintiff returned to his position on a part-time basis but was soon fired. Plaintiff has not worked since.

         The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claim initially and again on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before ALJ Glenn Meyers on November 15, 2013. On June 13, 2014, ALJ Meyers issued a decision denying the claim. Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision, which the Appeals Council granted, remanding the case back to the ALJ for further proceedings. On May 27, 2016, a hearing on remand was held before ALJ John Michaelsen. On July 6, 2016, ALJ Michaelsen (hereinafter, “the ALJ”) issued a decision again denying the claim. Plaintiff requested review of the decision, which the Appeals council denied on March 6, 2017. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.

         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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