United States District Court, D. Oregon
GIA M. P. Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Malcolm F. Marsh, United States District Judge.
GiaM. P. seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
application for supplemental security income
("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. This Court has
jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). For the reasons that follow, the court reverses
the Commissioner's decision and remands for an immediate
payment of benefits.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
protectively filed her application for SSI on February 3,
2014. Plaintiff alleges disability beginning December 1,
2010, due to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress
disorder ("PTSD"), attention deficit disorder,
migraine headaches, and sleep apnea. Tr. Soc. Sec. Admin. R.
("Tr.")65, ECFNo. 13. Plaintiff s claims were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a
request for a hearing before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"). The ALJ held a hearing on November 8,
2016, at which Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and
testified. A vocational expert, Todd Gendreau, also appeared
at the hearing and testified. On December 16, 2016, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiffs request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for
purposes of review.
was 46 years old on the alleged onset of disability date and
was 52 years old on the date of the hearing. Tr. 65.
Plaintiff has obtained a GED and has taken some community
college classes. Tr. 49. At the time of the hearing,
Plaintiff was working part- time as a courtesy clerk. Tr. 50.
Plaintiff has no past relevant work, and has been employed as
a bakery worker, construction cleaner, and care giver. Tr.
37, 77-78. Plaintiff has a history of polysubstance abuse and
has been sober since 2011. Tr. 57, 59.
ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether aperson is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §
416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant
bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1010 (9th Cir.
2014). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that the claimant can do other work which exists in the
national economy. Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153,
1161 (9th Cir. 2012).
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset of
disability. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
following severe impairments: attention deficit disorder,
PTSD, anxiety disorder, and major depression. Tr. 20. At step
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff s impairments, or
combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a
assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform work at all exertional levels
with additional limitations:
[Plaintiff] can understand, remember, and carry out
instructions, where she is limited to performing simple,
routine tasks. Using judgment would be limited to making
simple work-related decisions. Responding appropriately to
supervisors, coworkers, and the public could only be done
occasionally. Dealing with changes in a workplace setting
should be limited to simple work-related decisions. Time off
task would be able to be accommodated by normal breaks.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work.
At step five, the ALJ found that considering Plaintiffs age,
education, work experience, and residual functional capacity,
jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff can perform, including such representative
occupations as: hand packager, laborer, and kitchen helper.
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been
under a disability under the Social Security Act since
contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ
improperly evaluated her subjective symptom testimony; (2)
the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion of her treating
providers Elaine Mitchell, D.O., and Celeste Walker, QMHP;
and (3) the ALJ improperly evaluated the lay testimony of
Barbara P. and Shirley Hall. The Commissioner argues that the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and
is free of legal error. Alternatively, the Commissioner
contends that even if the ALJ erred, Plaintiff has not
demonstrated harmful error.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871
F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017). "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." Hill, 698
F.3d at 1159; (internal quotations omitted);
Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1009. The court must weigh all
the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the
Commissioner's decision. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at
675; Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1009. The
Commissioner's decision must be upheld, even if the
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation. Batson v. Commissioner Soc, Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If the
evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusion, the
Commissioner must be affirmed; "the court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner."
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001); Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1010.
The ALJ Erred in Discounting Plaintiffs
determine whether a claimant's testimony regarding
subjective pain or symptoms is credible, an ALJ must perform
two stages of analysis. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 678; 20
C.F.R. § 416.929. The first stage is a threshold test in
which the claimant must produce objective medical evidence of
an underlying impairment that could reasonably be expected to
produce the symptoms alleged. Molina v. Astrue, 674
F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); Tommasetti v.
Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008). At the
second stage of the credibility analysis, absent affirmative
evidence of malingering, the ALJ must provide clear and
convincing reasons for discrediting the claimant's
testimony regarding the severity of the symptoms.
Carmickle v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d
1155, 1166 (9th Cir. 2008); Lingenfelter v. Astrue,
504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007).
must make findings that are sufficiently specific to permit
the reviewing court to conclude that the ALJ did not
arbitrarily discredit the claimant's testimony.
Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1163 (9th Cir.
2014); Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 493
(9th Cir. 2015). Factors the ALJ may consider when making
such credibility determinations include the objective medical
evidence, the claimant's treatment history, the
claimant's daily activities, and inconsistencies in
testimony. Ghanim, 763 F.3d at 1163;
Tommasetti, 533 F.3d at 1039.
hearing, Plaintiff testified that she was 52 years old, and
that she received a GED and took some college classes, but
did not receive a degree. Plaintiff testified that she was
working two days a week as a courtesy clerk at a grocery
store, and had previously worked in the bakery department.
Tr. 50-51. Plaintiff testified that she was having difficulty
remembering temperatures and proofing in the bakery, so she
switched to the courtesy department. Tr. 50. Plaintiff
testified that she is absent from work due to stress. Tr. 51.
Plaintiff stated that she is unable to work full time because
she has difficulty making decisions and remembering things.
Tr. 52. Plaintiff stated that she feels like she is always
singled out. Tr. 52.
testified that she takes a variety of medications for her
depression and anxiety including ritalin, lexapro,
gabapentin, klonopin, strattera, and viibryd. Tr. 53-54.
Plaintiff described that when she is not working, she stays
in the house and watches television. Tr. 54. Plaintiff is
able to shop for groceries, but described it as maddening.
Tr. 55. Plaintiff has a driver's license. Tr. 55.
has a long history of drug and alcohol problems, and has
remained sober since April 2011 by attending counseling and
taking methadone. Tr. 57, 59. Plaintiff is on a