United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
AIKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lisa L. brings this action pursuant to the Social Security
Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner
denied plaintiffs application for Supplemental Security
Income and Disability Insurance Benefits on October 14, 2014.
For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's
decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.
was born on October 2, 1967. She completed school through the
8th grade and previously worked as an accounts receivable
clerk, billing clerk, and housecleaner, Plaintiff was five
feet tall and weighed two hundred and sixty-seven pounds at
the time of her application.
August 27, 2012, plaintiff filed for Title II Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). In her
applications, plaintiff alleged disability beginning June 2,
2003. She alleged that she was disabled by a combination of
physical and mental impairments, including personality
disorder, major depressive disorder, bi-polar disorder,
chronic pain, hypertension, obesity, fibromyalgia,
degenerative disc disease, lumbar disc disease, irritable
bowel syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, pedal edema, breast
abscess, bell's palsy, obstructive sleep apnea, panic
disorder, and dysthymic disorder.
claims were denied initially on December 4, 2012. They were
denied upon reconsideration on March 3, 2013. On May 1, 2013,
plaintiff filed a written request for hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), An administrative
hearing was held on September 8, 2014, where plaintiff was
represented by counsel. Plaintiff and vocational expert
("VE") offered testimony. The ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision on October 14, 2014. The decision was
appealed to the Appeals Council, and on March 1, 2016 the
Appeals Council remanded the case for further deliberation
under the new and material evidence provision of the
regulations (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.970, 416.1470). After
a supplemental hearing on September 21, 2016, the same ALJ
issued a second unfavorable decision finding plaintiff not
disabled under the Act on December 8, 2016. On February 9,
2017, Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review of the
ALJ's second decision. On September 20, 2017, the Appeals
Council denied plaintiffs request for review, and the
ALJ's decision was made final. Thereafter, plaintiff
filed a timely complaint in this court.
district court must affirm the ALJ's decision unless it
contains legal error or is not supported by substantial
evidence," Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995,
1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Stout v. Comm'r, Soc.
Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006)).
Harmless legal errors are not grounds for reversal. Stout
v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054
(9th Cir. 2006) (citing Burch v. Bamhart, 400 F.3d
676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)). "Substantial evidence is more
than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion," Gutierrez v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir.
2014) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The
court must evaluate the complete record and weigh "both
the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts
from the ALJ's conclusion," Mayes v.
Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the
evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the
Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner
must be affirmed because "the court may not substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlundv.
Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the plaintiff 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).
determine whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required
to employ a five-step sequential analysis, determining:
"(1) whether the claimant is 'doing substantial
gainful activity'; (2) whether the claimant has a
'severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment' or combination of impairments that has lasted
for more than 12 months; (3) whether the impairment
'meets or equals' one of the listings in the
regulations; (4) whether, given the claimant's
'residual functional capacity,' the claimant can
still do his or her 'past relevant work' and (5)
whether the claimant 'can make an adjustment to other
work.'" Molina v. Aslme, 674 F.3d 1104,
1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
"substantial gainful activity" since the alleged
onset date of June 2, 2003. Tr. 20. At step two, the ALJ
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of "a
bipolar disorder with depression and anxiety; post-traumatic
stress disorder; a personality disorder; a history of
polysubstance abuse, in remission; sleep apnea; Bell's
palsy; fibromyalgia; degenerative disc disease; venous
stasis; urinary incontinence; obesity; migraine headaches;
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease[.]" Tr. 20-21.
At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment.
then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity
("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); §
416.920(e). The ALJ found that plaintiff
has the [RFC] to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20
pounds occasionally. She can sit about six hours in an
eight-hour workday. She can stand and walk about four hours
in an eight-hour workday. She can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl.
She needs to alternate between sitting and standing about
every hour but the change in position would be brief (less
than five minutes) and she could remain at the workstation
and remain productive. She needs a bathroom break for about
five minutes every hour and work within 200 feet from a
restroom facility. She should avoid concentrated exposure ...