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Maelynn P. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 27, 2018

MAELYNN P.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          James S. Coon and Scott A. Sell, Thomas, Coon, Newton, & Frost, The Thomas Mann Building, 820 SW Second Ave., Suite 200, Portland, Oregon 97204. Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, 1000 SW Third Avenue, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97204; Sarah L. Martin, 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 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Maelynn P. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Because the Commissioner's decision was not based on the proper legal standards and the findings were not supported by substantial evidence, the decision is REVERSED and this case REMANDED for further proceedings.

         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); Molina v. Astrue, 673 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion” and is more than a “mere scintilla” of the evidence but less than a preponderance. Id. at 1110-11 (quotation omitted). The Court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they “are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record[, ]” even if the evidence is susceptible to multiple rational interpretations. Id. at 1110. The Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (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) (quotation omitted).

         BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Application

         Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on June 4, 2013, alleging disability as of January 1, 2010.[2] AR 70. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on August 10, 2015. AR 36-69. After the hearing, ALJ Gordon W. Griggs issued an adverse decision dated September 24, 2015, finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). AR 13-27. The decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-3. Plaintiff now seeks review in this Court.

         Born in January 1966, Plaintiff was 43 years old on the initial alleged disability onset date and 49 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. AR 71. She is a high school graduate. AR 39-40, 189. Plaintiff alleges disability due to: spinal disc bulging and lower back pain, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), shoulder pain, chronic headaches, panic attacks, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder (“ADD”), and depression. AR 188.

         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. § 432(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; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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). 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. 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). If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe” under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An impairment or combination of impairments is “severe” if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). Unless expected to result in death, this impairment must have lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. If the claimant does not have a severe ...

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