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Shirley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 18, 2018

JASON SHIRLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARK D. CLARKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jason Shirley seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administrations denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to magistrate jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for immediate payment of benefits.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1986 and was 23 years old when he alleges his disability began, Tr, 421. Plaintiff completed the twelfth grade (Tr. 202), and has past work as an administrative clerk, shuttle driver, plastic line operator, and oil change pitman. Tr. 420, 657. Plaintiff alleges disability due to immunoglobulin nephropathy, immune deficiency, rheumatoid arthritis, stage one kidney failure, chronic pain disorder, fibromyalgia, migraines, and posttraumatic stress disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. Tr. 201, 406.

         Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for social security income on July 20, 2010. Tr. 24. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning June 30, 2009. Tr. 24. Both applications were initially denied and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing. Tr. 131. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) and a decision denying benefits was issued on March 26, 2012. Tr. 21-36. The Appeals Council affirmed the decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff then appealed and this Court reversed the decision and remanded the claim for further administrative proceedings. Tr. 517-19.

         On August 12, 2016, a second hearing was held before an ALJ. Tr. 431-94. Plaintiff, witness Michael Shirley, and a vocational expert all testified at the hearing. Tr. 431-94. The ALJ issued a decision again denying benefits on May 10, 2017. Tr. 403-22. Plaintiff now seeks review of the ALJ's 2017 decision.

         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. Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 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. §§404.1520(a)(4)(i); 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. §§ 404.1510; 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(i); 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 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. §§ 404.1521(a); 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. §§ 404.1509; 416.909. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds to the "residual functional capacity" ("RFC") assessment.
a. The ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine the claimant's 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. §§ 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 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. §§404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v); 404.1560(c); 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such work, he or she is disabled. Id.

See also Bustamanle v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954-55 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Id. at 954. 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) (internal citations omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566; 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves that ...


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