United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act and Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social
Security Act in part. The Court has jurisdiction under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. §
1382(c)(3)). Because the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
improperly discounted Plaintiff's subjective symptom
testimony, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision
and REMANDS this case for further administrative proceedings.
was born on June 19, 1960 and was fifty-two years old on
November 27, 2012, the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 20,
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act (“SSA” or “Act”) through
December 31, 2015. Tr. 23. Plaintiff has at least a high
school education but is unable to perform any past relevant
work. Tr. 31. Plaintiff claims he is disabled based on:
lumbar degenerative disc disease; right shoulder
osteoarthritis; left acromioclavicular joint arthritis;
obesity; left knee degenerative joint disease; hypertension;
gastroesophageal reflux disease; depression; anxiety; and a
history of cocaine abuse. Tr. 23-4. Plaintiff's benefits
application was denied initially on March 17, 2014, and upon
reconsideration on November 24, 2014. Tr. 20. A hearing was
held before Administrative Law Judge Jo Hoenninger on April
25, 2016. Tr. 42-80. ALJ Hoenninger issued a written decision
on June 2, 2016, finding that, as of June 19, 2015, Plaintiff
was disabled and entitled to benefits. Tr. 20-34. Plaintiff
was therefore not disabled or entitled to benefits between
November 27, 2012 and June 18, 2015. Tr. 20-30. The Appeals
Council declined review, rendering ALJ Hoenninger's
decision the Commissioner's final decision that Plaintiff
now challenges in this Court. Tr. 1-6.
central issue here is whether the ALJ properly determined
that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time
period: November 27, 2012 through June 18, 2015.
claimant is disabled if she is 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a
five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant
bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.
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.
three, the Commissioner determines whether 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. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if
not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant,
despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the
claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must
establish that the claimant can perform other work.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the
Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is
able to perform other work which exists in the national
economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date. Tr. 23.
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “had the
following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc
disease; right shoulder osteoarthritis; left
acromioclavicular joint arthritis; obesity; left knee
degenerative joint disease; and hypertension.” Tr.
23-24. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's
gastroesophageal reflux disease, depression, anxiety, and
history of cocaine abuse were not severe. Id.
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have any
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. Tr. 24-25. In particular, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's condition did not meet the requirements of
Listing 1.02 for major joint dysfunction or Listing 1.04 for
disorders of the spine. Id.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with
the following exceptions:
The claimant could stand and/or walk for up to 2 hours in an
8-hour workday; the claimant could never climb ladders, ropes
or scaffolds; the claimant could occasionally climb ramps and
stairs; the claimant could occasionally stoop, kneel, and
crouch; the claimant can rarely crawl (defined as 10% of the
time or less); the claimant could occasionally perform
bilateral overhead reaching; the claimant could tolerate
frequent exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness,
humidity, noise, vibration, and workplace hazards such as
unprotected heights and exposed moving machinery.
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform
any past relevant work, either as a warehouse worker, a
forklift operator, or an event coordinator. Tr. 31-32.
five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert
to find that prior to June 19, 2015, the date at which
Plaintiff became categorized as an individual of advanced
age, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that the Plaintiff could have performed.
Tr. 32-33. After June 19, 2015, there were no jobs ...