United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
YIM YOU UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
D. (“plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of the
final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under the Social Security Act (“Act”). This court
has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
Because the Commissioner's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence, it is REVERSED and REMANDED for the
immediate payment of benefits.
October 1952, plaintiff was 60 years old on the alleged onset
date. Tr. 87. She has master's degrees in both finance
and taxation. Tr. 52-53. Plaintiff has past relevant work
experience as an accountant and a controller. Tr. 31.
has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, arthritis, migraines,
severe fatigue, chronic pain, celiac disease, bursitis,
hypoglycemia, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, asthma, IBS,
alopecia, depression, ADHD, and anxiety. Tr. 319, 391, 394,
417, 444, 484, 522, 525.
depression and anxiety were treated with therapy and an
ever-changing cocktail of medications, including Klonopin,
Lexapro, Pristiq, Topamax, Paxil, Effexor, Zoloft, and
Wellbutrin. Tr. 384, 440, 444, 535, 542. Notwithstanding
treatment, plaintiff struggled with stress and would often
become overwhelmed. Tr. 165, 305, 551, 599. Plaintiff suffers
from alopecia, which resulted in a complete loss of all hair
on her body. Tr. 414, 441. Dr. Puziss concluded that the
alopecia was probably caused by stress. Tr. 542. Dr. Parent
determined plaintiff was not capable of even a low-stress
job. Tr. 165. Plaintiff explained that she structures her
life to avoid as much stress as possible, mostly by avoiding
social interaction. Tr. 305.
consistently reported pain and fatigue to her treating
providers. Tr. 448, 465, 468-69, 479, 495, 502, 518, 521,
537, 545, 550, 552, 564, 591, 595, 597, 603. Plaintiff's
fatigue inhibited her ability to perform daily activities.
She explained that she usually gives up on household chores
because she runs out of energy, and she sometimes goes to bed
hungry because she does not have the energy to prepare food.
Tr. 298, 300. Dr. Parent opined that plaintiff's fatigue
was caused by fibromyalgia. Tr. 521. Beginning in 2011,
plaintiff began arriving later and later to her job due to
the fibromyalgia-related fatigue. Tr. 54, 311. By the time
she stopped working completely, plaintiff had been reduced to
working only 10 hours per week. Tr. 54.
filed an application for DIB on November 22, 2013, alleging
disability beginning August 23, 2013. Tr. 21. Plaintiff's
claim was initially denied on May 16, 2014, and upon
reconsideration on September 4, 2014. Id. On March
21, 2016, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), wherein plaintiff was represented
by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert
(“VE”). Tr. 38-76. On September 6, 2016, the ALJ
issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Tr. 21-32. After the Appeals Council
denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in
this court. Tr. 1-7. The ALJ's decision is therefore the
Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this
court. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210.
reviewing 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. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911
(9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the evidence that
supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion and
“‘may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.'” Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th
Cir. 2007)). The reviewing court may not substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner when the evidence can
reasonably support either affirming or reversing the
decision. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th
Cir. 2007). Instead, where the evidence is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's
decision must be upheld if it is “supported by
inferences reasonably drawn from the record.”
Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir.
2008) (citation omitted); see also
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035.
ANALYSIS AND ALJ FINDINGS
is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
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). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential
inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within
the meaning of the Act. This sequential analysis is set forth
in the Social Security regulations, 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920, in Ninth Circuit case law, Lounsburry
v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006)
(discussing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99
(9th Cir. 1999)), and in the ALJ's decision in this case,
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity after the alleged onset date.
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: obesity and fibromyalgia. Id.
three, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a
listed impairment. Tr. 27. The ALJ next assessed
plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determined that she could perform
light work with the following limitations: she cannot climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she can frequently climb ramps
and stairs; she can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch and
crawl; and she should avoid exposure to hazards, dusts,
odors, fumes, and gasses. Tr. 28.
four, the ALJ found plaintiff could perform her past relevant
work as an accountant or controller. Tr. 31. By finding
plaintiff was able to do past relevant work, the ALJ
determined plaintiff was not disabled; therefore, the ALJ did
not proceed to step five. 20 C.F.R. §§
argues that the ALJ: (1) improperly discounted her subjective
symptom testimony; (2) erroneously assessed the medical
opinion of Dr. Parent; (3) and incorrectly determined that
plaintiff's depression and anxiety were not severe.