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Bernice H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 14, 2018

BERNICE H.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          George J. Wall Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams United States Attorney Renata Gowie Assistant United States Attorney Thomas M. Elsberry Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Bernice H. brings this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)). For the reasons that follow, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands this case for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on October 22, 2013, alleging an onset date of November 8, 2001. Tr. 8.[2] Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Id.

         On December 21, 2015, Plaintiff appeared, without counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Id. On January 27, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled from November 8, 2001 through December 31, 2002, her date last insured. Tr. 13. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges disability based on a torn rotator cuff (post-surgery), right knee arthritis, low back pain, diabetes, asthma, and depression. Tr. 62. Her one office visit from the relevant time period indicates that she had bilateral knee pain, likely caused by osteoarthritis and aggravated by obesity and trochanteric bursitis of the hip. Tr. 245-46. Plaintiff's knee pain stems from an injury she sustained after falling down a flight of stairs in either 1996 or 1997 while working at the Multnomah County Jail. Tr. 28-29. Plaintiff was fifty-nine years old at the time of the hearing and was forty-six years old at the time of her alleged onset date. Tr. 62. She has a GED and past relevant work experience as an institutional and short order cook. Tr. 27-29. She was awarded Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments on a separate application. Tr. 53.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION

         A claimant is disabled if 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), 1382c(3)(a).

         Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See, e.g., Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines 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), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, 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 141; 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is ...


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