United States District Court, D. Oregon
L. Johnson and Kathryn Tassinari, Drew L. Johnson, P.C., 1700
Valley River Drive, Eugene, OR 97401. Of Attorneys for
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
The Sequential Analysis
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. §§