Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Leah Y. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 24, 2019

LEAH Y., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PATRICIA SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Leah Y. 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”) denying her Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. For the following reasons, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS for further administrative proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on December 18, 2013, claiming disability beginning December 6, 2013. Tr. 149-50.[2] Her claim was denied initially on May 23, 2014, and on reconsideration on November 20, 2014. Tr. 63-76, 77-90. A hearing was held September 30, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) MaryKay Rauenzahn. Tr. 32-62. Plaintiff testified at the hearing, represented by counsel; a vocational expert (“VE”), Francene Geers, also testified. Id. On December 12, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled under the Act and denying benefits. Tr. 14-27. Plaintiff requested review before the Appeals Council, which was denied December 20, 2017. Tr. 1-7. Plaintiff then sought review before this Court.[3]

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1971. Tr. 64. She graduated high school and has completed one year of college, and has no specialized job training, or trade or vocational school experience. Tr. 36, 162, 208. She has worked as an inventory merchandiser and retail store manager. Tr. 37, 155, 162, 180. Plaintiff has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, obesity, migraines, chronic pain syndrome, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, right hip degenerative joint disease and trochanteric bursitis, mild lumbar degenerative disc disease, eczema, hypertension, and a heart block. Tr. 243, 254, 266-67, 347-48, 352, 385-86, 389, 403-04, 412, 416, 433-38, 508-09.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The 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 omitted).

         The 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).

         The 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). 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). 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 impairment meets or equals “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 ALJ must evaluate medical and other evidence to assess and determine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (“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 her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(b)-(c), 416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). The Commissioner proceeds to the fourth step to determine 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.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset. Tr. 16. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had these severe impairments: fibromyalgia, obesity, migraines, chronic pain syndrome, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, right hip degenerative joint disease and trochanteric bursitis, and mild lumbar degenerative disc disease. Id. The ALJ found that these were not severe impairments for plaintiff: hypertension, eczema, and a heart signal blockage treated with a pacemaker implant. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination thereof that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Tr. 16-19.

         The ALJ then found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work, with various physical limitations; with various social limitations; limited to simple, routine instructions that can be learned in 30 days or less; and limited to a low-stress occupation. Tr. 19. In so finding, the ALJ gave “little weight” to the opinions of Travis Matsumoto, P.A., plaintiff's primary care provider, Tr. 24, and found that plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and evidence of record, Tr. 22.

         At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. Tr. 25. At step five, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including addresser, taper, and patcher. Tr. 25-26. The ALJ thus found plaintiff not disabled under the Act and not entitled to benefits. Tr. 26-27.

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in three regards: (1) in failing to reconcile an alleged inconsistency regarding the VE's testimony; (2) in discounting P.A. Matsumoto's opinions; and (3) in finding plaintiff's symptom testimony not entirely credible. The Court finds that the ALJ did not err regarding the VE testimony or Matsumoto's opinions, but did err in failing to give sufficient, legitimate reasons for discounting plaintiff's symptom testimony.

         I. Vocational Expert Testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles

         Plaintiff argues that there is a conflict between the VE's testimony and the job descriptions in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) that the ALJ failed to reconcile. Specifically, plaintiff argues that the RFC's limitation to “simple, routine ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.