United States District Court, D. Oregon
KENNETH M. C.,  Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. Russo, United States Magistrate Judge
M. C.1 (“plaintiff”) brings this action for
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his
application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). All parties have consented to allow a
Magistrate Judge enter final orders and judgment in this case
in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. §
636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case is
remanded for the immediate payment of benefits beginning
December 17, 2015.
August 19, 2013, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging
disability as of January 22, 2013. Tr. 168. His application
was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 78-88,
90-102. On January 12, 2016, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), wherein
plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did
Martha C., plaintiff's wife, and a vocational expert
(“VE”). Tr. 37-78. On May 26, 2016, the ALJ
issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Tr. 15-36. After the Appeals Council
denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in
this Court. Tr. 1-7.
November 10, 1950, plaintiff was 62 years old on the alleged
onset date and 65 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr.
37, 181. Plaintiff died of pancreatic cancer on September 14,
2017, at the age of 66. Pl.'s Opening Br. Ex. A (doc.
12). He graduated from high school and worked previously as
an automobile mechanic, van driver, and shuttle driver. Tr.
186, 271. Plaintiff alleges disability due to post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”), depression, prostate
cancer, high blood pressure, eye issues, and back and left
foot pain. Tr. 80, 185.
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) (citation and internal
quotations omitted). The court must weigh “both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
[Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable
interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the
Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v.
Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
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 sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. First, the Commissioner determines whether a
claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
two, the Commissioner evaluates 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). If the claimant does not have a
severe impairment, he is not disabled.
three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's
impairments, either 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 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the
claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner
proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can
still perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(f). If the claimant can work, he is not
disabled; if he 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
existing in significant numbers in the national or local
economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden,
the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.
one of the five step sequential evaluation process outlined
above, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 20, 23. At
step two, the ALJ determined plaintiff's myocardial
infraction was medically determinable and severe after
December 17, 2015. Tr. 27. At step three, the ALJ found that
plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination,
did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed
plaintiff did not establish presumptive disability at step
three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiff's
impairments affected his ability to work. The ALJ resolved
that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work.
four, the ALJ determined plaintiff could not perform any past
relevant work. Tr. 29. At step five, the ALJ concluded that
there were a significant number of jobs in the national and
local economy that plaintiff could perform despite his
impairments, such as service writer or parts clerk. Tr. 30.
argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) finding PTSD not severe at
step two; (2) rejecting Martha C.'s lay testimony; and