United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Ronald J. brings this action pursuant to the Social Security
Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to
obtain judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”). The Commissioner partially
denied plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act. 42
U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., 1381 et
seq. The Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision
and REMANDS for further administrative proceedings.
protectively filed for DIB on March 28, 2014, and for SSI on
August 11, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of
September 8, 2013. Tr. 22, 165, 167. These claims were denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 22, 65-72, 75-89,
90-104. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on
March 15, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) S. Pines. Tr. 40-63. Plaintiff appeared
and testified at the hearing, represented by counsel; a
vocational expert (“VE”), Robert Gaffney, also
testified. Id. On April 26, 2016, the ALJ issued a
partially favorable decision finding that plaintiff was under
a disability as defined by the Act from September 8, 2013,
through July 27, 2015. Tr. 29-30. However, the ALJ found that
beginning on July 28, 2015, plaintiff's disability ended
due to medical improvement. Tr. 31. Plaintiff requested
Appeals Council review, which was denied July 31, 2017. Tr.
1-6. Plaintiff then sought review before this
was born in 1959 and completed high school. Tr. 29, 46, 65.
He suffers from shingles, post-herpetic neuralgia nerve pain,
polyneuropathy, tinnitus, spinal disorder, and depression.
Tr. 65, 75, 222, 286. Plaintiff previously worked as an
industrial and service salesmen, sales engineer, and account
representative. Tr. 203-07.
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. Hammock
v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotation omitted).
The court must weigh “both the evidence that supports
and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.”
Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir.
1986). “Where the evidence as a whole can support
either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute
[its] judgment for the ALJ's.” Massachi v.
Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation
omitted); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676,
680-81 (9th Cir. 2005) (holding that the court “must
uphold the ALJ's decision where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation”).
“[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as
a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v.
Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must
demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected . . . to
last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Commissioner has established a five-step process for
determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, the Commissioner
determines whether a claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”; if so, the
claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140;
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).
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). A severe
impairment is one “which significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities[.]” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c);
416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At step three, the
Commissioner determines whether the impairments meet or equal
“one of a number of listed impairments that the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity.” Id.; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is
conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the analysis
proceeds. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At this point,
the Commissioner must evaluate medical and other relevant
evidence to determine the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”), an assessment
of work-related activities that the claimant may still
perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations his impairments impose. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 404.1545(b)-(c), 416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). At
step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant
can perform “past relevant work.”
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can work, he is not
disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146
n.5. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the
claimant can perform other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. Id. at 142; 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), (f), 416.920(e), (f). If the
Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
first made findings regarding plaintiff's disability
claim from September 3, 2013, through July 27, 2015. Tr.
26-30. The ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through December 31, 2018. Tr. 26. At
step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had these following severe impairments:
post-herpetic neuralgia, spinal disorder, and depressive
disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that
plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination thereof
that met or equaled a listed impairment. Id. The ALJ
found that, during the time period at issue, plaintiff had
the RFC to perform light work with various physical
limitations, and that plaintiff “was likely to be on
task less than eighty percent of the workday.” Tr.
26-27. At step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was
unable to perform his past relevant work. Tr. 29. At step
five, the ALJ found that from September 8, 2013, through July
27, 2015, and considering plaintiff's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, no jobs existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could have
performed. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was under a disability as defined by the Act from
September 8, 2013, through July 27, 2015. Tr. 30.
next found that medical improvement occurred as of July 28,
2015. Tr. 31. The ALJ compared plaintiff's prior RFC and
found that plaintiff's functional capacity for basic work
activities had increased. Id. The ALJ found that,
beginning on July 28, 2015, plaintiff had the RFC to perform
light work with essentially the same physical limitations,
but without the limitation that plaintiff would be off task
20% of the workday. Id. The ALJ found, beginning
July 28, 2015, that plaintiff was capable of performing past
relevant work as a sales representative. Tr. 32-33. The ALJ
also made an alternative finding that, “considering
[plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and RFC,
[plaintiff had] acquired work skills from past relevant work
that [were] transferable to other occupations with jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national
economy.” Tr. 33. Finally, the ALJ applied
Medical-Vocational Rule 202.07, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 2, Rule 202.07, which directed a finding of “not
disabled, ” and so the ALJ found that plaintiff's
disability ended as of July 28, 2015. Tr. 33-34.
argues that the ALJ erred in finding medical improvement,
specifically, that the ALJ (1) failed to base his finding of
medical improvement on “symptoms, signs, and laboratory
findings”; (2) improperly rejected plaintiff's
treating neurologist's opinion for the period after the
ALJ's finding ...