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Paula B. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 3, 2018

PAULA B., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Merrill Schneider Schneider Kerr & Robichaux Attorney for Plaintiff

          Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney Janice Hebert, Asst. U.S. Attorney Heather L. Griffith Special Asst. U.S. Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          John Jelderks U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Paula B., brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff seeks an Order remanding the action to the Social Security Administration (“Agency”) for an award of benefits or, in the alternative, remanding for further proceedings.

         For the reasons set out below, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff was previously denied DIB on June 30, 2005. She protectively filed a new application for DIB on August 31, 2012, alleging disability beginning March 3, 2004. After her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff timely requested an administrative hearing.

         On March 7, 2014, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Glenn G. Meyers. Plaintiff appeared unrepresented by counsel. Based on evidence presented at that hearing, the ALJ determined that a supplemental hearing was necessary, which was held on May 8, 2015. Plaintiff was represented by counsel, and Carolyn Kay Wise, a vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the second hearing.

         In a decision dated June 23, 2015, ALJ Meyers found Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

         On January 17, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In the present action, Plaintiff challenges that decision.

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1957 and was 52 years old on the date she was last insured for DIB. Tr. 117. She completed high school and has past relevant work experience as a bindery worker and technician. Tr. 102, 363. Plaintiff alleges disability due to depression, anxiety, arthritis, left-hand derangement, “status post lumbar hemilaminectomy, ” and bipolar disorder. Tr. 25, 235.

         Disability Analysis

         The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The five-step sequential inquiry is summarized below, as described in Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Step One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). A claimant engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step two. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

         Step Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not have such an impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).

         Step Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines whether the claimant's impairment “meets or equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Agency regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has an impairment that meets a listing is presumed disabled under the Act. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an impairment listed in the regulations, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under step four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

         Step Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to perform relevant work he or she has done in the past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do work performed in the past, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Step Five. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds that the claimant is able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant is able to do. The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a VE or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can do, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does not meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).

         At steps one through four, the burden of proof is on the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

         ALJ's ...


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