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Tammy J. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

August 10, 2018

TAMMY J.,[1] Plaintiff,


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Tammy J. brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiffs applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for an immediate award of benefits.


         In March 2013, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. She alleged disability beginning April 9, 1985, due to mild mental retardation and anxiety. Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On February 11, 2016, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ, On March 3, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based upon proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v. Massanarit 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner must be affirmed because "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edhtnd v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         The 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).

         The 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(a)(4); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 22; 20 C.F.R, § 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id § 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of asthma, anxiety disorder, and intellectual disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c); id § 416.920(a)(4)(h), (c).

         At step three, the ALJ determined plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or in combination, did not meet or equal "one of the listed impairments" that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr, 23; 20 CF.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d). In particular, the ALJ addressed Listing 12.05, which governs intellectual disorders. As relevant in this appeal, the ALJ found that plaintiffs "intellectual disability ... does not satisfy the criteria of Listing 12.05 because there is insufficient evidence of... a valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of sixty through seventy and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of function," Tr. 23.

         The ALJ found plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC")

to perform work that requires understanding and carrying out no more than simple instructions in a work environment with few workplace changes. The claimant must avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poorly ventilated areas. The claimant is able to perform this work at all exertional levels.

Tr. 24; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could perform her past work as a cleaner or housekeeper. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv)) (f); id. ยง 416.920(a)(4)(iv). Accordingly, the ALJ found ...

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