Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Michelle R. v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

October 31, 2018

Michelle R.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          KATHRYN TASSINARI MARK A. MANNING Harder, Wells, Baron & Manning, P.C., BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney, RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney District of Oregon

          LISA GOLDOFTAS Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Counsel 701 Fifth Ave., Suite 2900 M/S 221A Seattle, WA 98104-7075 Of Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Mark Clarke United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Michelle R. ("Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on a careful review of the record, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and the case REMANDED for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed applications for Social Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on November 5, 2012, alleging disability as of October 1, 2009. Tr. 16. Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and a hearing was held on May 1, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"); Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 73-102. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged disability onset date to January 16, 2012, and withdrew her application for DIB. Tr. 16. On June 24, 2015, ALJ John Michaelsen issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 16-29. Plaintiff requested timely review of the ALJ's decision and, after the Appeals Council denied her request for review, filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.

         Factual Background

         Born in 1964, Plaintiff was 47 years old on the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 27. She graduated high school and completed three years of college. Tr. 254. She previously worked as a broker at an insurance brokerage. Tr. 254. She alleges disability due to fibromyalgia; thyroid disease; and asthma. Tr. 253.

         On January 16, 2012, Plaintiff underwent a total abdominal hysterectomy and a left salpingo-oophorectomy. Tr. 321. Plaintiff reported pain, fatigue, and weight gain after her surgery, and on June 8, 2012, she underwent a second procedure involving lysis of adhesions and vaginal trachelectomy. Tr. 421. Following her second surgery, Plaintiff stated that her pain was completely resolved with no residual complaints, and her surgeon opined that her incisions were healing "beautifully" and her postoperative course was "excellent." Tr. 413. Later, on June 27, 2013, Plaintiff underwent a pelvic ultrasound which revealed an ovarian cyst. Plaintiff was counseled to improve her diet, exercise more, and her nurse practitioner encouraged her to seek naturopathic or acupuncture-related remedies. Tr. 340, 344.

         Plaintiff was diagnosed with fibromyalgia by a rheumatologist on November 12, 2014, and was prescribed Gabapentin. Tr. 378. On December 10, 2014, Plaintiff stated that she would "just tough out the flares" and not take her fibromyalgia prescriptions daily, as recommended. Tr. 596.

         Plaintiff also experienced mild oropharyngeal dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, at various times throughout the adjudicatory period, as well as neck tension, breathing discomfort, and voice hoarseness. Tr. 700. Plaintiff worked with a speech therapist and speech and language pathologist, who taught her swallowing exercises to manage her conditions. Tr. 494.

         On August 6, 2013, an x-ray of Plaintiff s lumbosacral spine revealed "advanced disc space narrowing at ¶ 4-L5 and L5-S1" vertebrae, in addition to "severe facet joint arthrosis" at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 vertebral levels. Tr. 455. On October 31, 2012, Plaintiff was diagnosed with lower back pain. Tr. 383. On November 15, 2013, an MRI of Plaintiffs lumbar spine revealed "advanced disc space narrowing," as well as "disc space narrowing desiccation" and "annular fissures" at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 vertebral levels. Tr. 625. Also on November 15, 2013, an MRI of Plaintiffs cervical vertebrae revealed disc desiccation from the C3 to C6 vertebral levels, with the most severe desiccation at ¶ 5-C6. Tr. 623. Plaintiff reported neck and shoulder pain in early 2015, and briefly attended physical therapy to help manage her condition. Tr. 655-57.

         Plaintiff also experienced asthmatic symptoms, but on May 3, 2012, her physician noted that her asthma was "well controlled" with medication. Tr. 442. In stuffy, indoor settings, Plaintiff stated that she used her inhaler up to 10 times per week. Tr. 586. Plaintiff also sought treatment for hearing loss and reported feeling "wobbly" while standing still. Tr. 579. On September 11, 2013, Plaintiff saw a hearing specialist, who determined that she suffered from "serious effusion of her right ear," and mixed hearing loss bilaterally. Tr. 796. Plaintiff underwent a procedure to insert a tube in her right ear; subsequent audiological testing revealed moderate low frequency sensorineural loss in her right ear and mild low and mid-frequency sensorineural loss, but "excellent" word recognition in both ears. Tr. 560.

         Plaintiff was prescribed a small amount of Xanax for panic attacks on October 31, 2013. Tr. 371. On March 4, 2014, Plaintiff stated that Xanax briefly helped, but her symptoms returned shortly after taking it. Tr. 583. She was prescribed Klonopin, but did not tolerate the medication and was prescribed Ativan shortly afterwards. Tr. 584-85. Plaintiff was diagnosed with PTSD on July 28, 2014. Tr. 589. In February 2015, Plaintiff began therapy and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Tr. 600, 817. By March 2015, Plaintiffs mood improved and she experienced fewer anxiety attacks and "less intense symptoms in general." Tr. 812. Her overall functionality had also improved. Tr. 812.

         Disability Analysis

         A claimant is disabled if he or 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). "Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." Keyser v. Comm'r, 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential process asks the following series of questions:

         1. Is the claimant performing "substantial gainful activity?" 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two.

         2. Is the claimant's impairment "severe" under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Unless expected to result in death, an impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. § 416.909. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(h). If the claimant has a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to step three.

         3. Does the claimant's severe impairment "meet or equal" one or more of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds beyond step three. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"). This is an assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e); 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.

         4. Can the claimant perform his or her "past relevant work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.

         5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v); 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such work, he or she is disabled. Id.; see also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Id. at 953. The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. At step five, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, "taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.966 (describing "work which exists in the national economy"). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54; Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.

         The ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.