United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION & ORDER
A. RUSSO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Laura Jo G. brings this action for judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Benefits under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). The Commissioner's decision is
reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
September 11, 2003, plaintiff applied for Title II disability
insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning April 1,
1997. Tr. 18, 147-48. Her application was denied initially on
March 19, 2014, and upon reconsideration on June 17, 2014.
Tr. 91-95, 99-101. On July 1, 2014, plaintiff filed a written
request for hearing. Tr. 102-03. On March 16, 2016, a hearing
was held before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). Tr. 37-63. Plaintiff was represented by
counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert
(“VE”). Id. At the hearing, plaintiff
amended her alleged onset date to January 1, 2010. Tr. 18,
April 12, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff
not disabled. Tr. 18-34. On June 23, 2017, the Appeals
council denied plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-5.
On August 21, 2017, plaintiff filed a complaint in this
Court. Pl.'s Comp. at pp. 1-2 (doc. 1).
was born on March 1, 1954. Tr. 147. According to the amended
onset date, she was 55 years old on the alleged date of
disability, and 62 years old at the time of the ALJ hearing.
She graduated from high school and completed two years of
college. Tr. 39. She has worked as a graphic designer, a
gallery salesperson, and an art instructor. Tr. 27, 57.
Plaintiff alleges disability due to fibromyalgia/myofascial
pain syndrome, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome
(“IBS”), sarcoidosis, and chronic fatigue. Tr.
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] conclusion.” Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986) (citations
omitted). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is
rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
initial burden of proof rests upon plaintiff 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, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. First, the Commissioner determines whether a
claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
two, the Commissioner evaluates 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 the claimant does not have a
severe impairment, she is not disabled.
three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's
impairments, either 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 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the
claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner
proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can
still perform “past relevant work.” 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. At step five, the
Commissioner must establish the claimant can perform other
work existing in significant numbers in the national or local
economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 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 of the sequential evaluation process outlined above, the
ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date. Id. At step
two, the ALJ determined plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: IBS; fibromyalgia/myofascial pain syndrome;
headaches; and history of sarcoidosis. Id.
three, the ALJ determined plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
Because plaintiff did not establish presumptive disability at
step three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiff's
impairments affected her ability to work. The ALJ determined
that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except:
[She can perform light work] with lifting and carrying 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, standing and
walking about six hours of an eight-hour workday and sitting
about six hours of an eight-hour workday. A bathroom must be
four, the ALJ determined plaintiff is capable of performing
past relevant work as a graphic designer, in gallery sales,
and as an art instructor. Tr. 27. Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded plaintiff was not disabled from January 1, 2010,
through the date of the decision, April 12, 2016. Tr. 28.
argues the ALJ erred by: (1) rejecting her subjective symptom
testimony; (2) failing to provide legally sufficient reasons
to discount the opinions of Drs. Robert Bennet, Katherine
Weller, and Rodney Schaffer, as well as chiropractor Laura
Adams; and (3) failing to properly credit lay-witness
testimony. Pl.'s Br. at pp. 2 (doc. 12).
March 2016 hearing, plaintiff indicated her primary symptoms
preventing work include fatigue, IBS, headaches,
fibromyalgia, sarcoidosis, and full-body pain. Tr. 45, 48-56.
Plaintiff stated she cannot make it through the day without
sleeping “for an hour or two, ” and she cannot
sit or stand for long periods of time. Tr. 45. In addition,
plaintiff indicated her IBS is painful, unpredictable, and
“interferes with everything.” Tr. 48, 50.
Plaintiff also complained of constant severe headaches and
the inability to perform small repetitive motions due to her
fibromyalgia. Tr. 52-53. Further, plaintiff testified she is
vulnerable to acute illnesses due to her sarcoidosis. Tr. ...