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Karen L. H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

January 15, 2019

Karen L. H., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Merrill Schneider Schneider Kerr & Robichaux Attorney for Plaintiff

          Billy Williams United States Attorney Renata Gowie Assistant United States Attorney Alexis L. Toma Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Karen L. H. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). The issues before the Court are whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1) failing to include all severe limitations at step two of the sequential analysis; (2) discrediting Plaintiff's testimony; (3) discrediting the lay testimony of Plaintiff's son, Dustin Damon Robert Brumitt; and (4) relying on occupations that represent an insufficient number of jobs available in the national economy to carry the Commissioner's burden at step five. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Opinion and Order.


         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 25, 2013, in which she alleged a disability-onset date of February 28, 2002. Tr. 185, 187.[2] Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on February 4, 2016, before ALJ S. Andrew Grace. Tr. 39-63. In a written decision issued May 17, 2016, ALJ Grace found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 20-33. On August 28, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review, rendering ALJ Grace's decision final. Tr. 1-5.


         A claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step 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). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's impairments, 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 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant 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. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.


         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 28, 2002, the alleged onset date. Tr. 22-23.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hypertension, obesity, “hernia status post repair, ” neuropathy, recurrent kidney stones, and anxiety. Tr. 23-25.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 25-27.

         Before step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform work consistent with the following limitations:

[T]he claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work, which is defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except her postural activities are restricted to only occasional climbing ramps/stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, and crouching. Additionally, she can never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds and never crawl. The residual functional capacity includes a limitation to simple, repetitive, and routine tasks consistent with unskilled work. Additionally, she is limited to low stress work, which is defined as work requiring few decisions and few changes. A further restriction is to only occasional contact with the public and coworkers. The claimant is able to frequently finger and feel with the dominant right hand.

Tr. 25-30.

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have any past relevant work. Tr. 31.

         At step five, the ALJ concluded other jobs existed in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including work as an addresser and charge account clerk. Tr. 32. Accordingly, ...

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