United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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.
applied for DIB on December 18, 2013, claiming disability
beginning December 6, 2013. Tr. 149-50. 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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vocational Expert Testimony and the Dictionary of
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