United States District Court, D. Oregon
R.J. PORTER JP Law P.C. Attorney for Plaintiff
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant
United States Attorney
MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel ERIN F.
HIGHLAND Special Assistant United States Attorney Social
Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
J. BROWN, UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE
Kevin Wayne G. seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA)
in which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the
Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has
jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the
decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS
this matter pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) for further administrative proceedings.
October 31, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed his
application for DIB and SSI benefits. Tr. 18. Plaintiff
originally alleged a disability onset date of October 1,
2009. Tr. 18. On March 28, 2016, Plaintiff amended the
disability onset date to March 1, 2014. Tr. 18, 232.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on
reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a
hearing on April 6, 2016. Tr. 18, 36-84. Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Plaintiff
was represented by an attorney at the hearing.
November 29, 2016, the ALJ issued an opinion in which she
found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not
entitled to benefits. Tr. 30. Plaintiff requested review by
the Appeals Council. On January 5, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's
decision, and the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. See Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
March 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.
was born on May 21, 1970. Tr. 28. Plaintiff was 44 years old
on his amended alleged disability onset date. Plaintiff has a
high-school education. Tr. 29. Plaintiff has past relevant
work experience as a residential counselor, caseworker
supervisor, and caseworker. Tr. 28.
alleges disability due to schizoaffective disorder and a
crippled left forearm and hand. Tr. 89, 242.
as noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary
of the medical evidence. After carefully reviewing the
medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of
the medical evidence. See Tr. 24-27.
initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish
disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110
(9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must
demonstrate his inability "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). The ALJ must
develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when
the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of
the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885
(9th Cir. 2011)(quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d
453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).
district 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 as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).
Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Molina, 674 F.3d. at 1110-11
(quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin.,
574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more than a mere
scintilla [of evidence] but less than a preponderance.
Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).
is responsible for evaluating a claimant's testimony,
resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving
ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591
(9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence
whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's
decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 528 F.3d
1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.
Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir.
2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d
1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).
The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation
One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (SGA) . 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (a) (4) (i),
416.920(a) (4) (i) . See also Keyser v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec, 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).
Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant does not have any medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1509, 404.1520(a) (4) (ii), 416.920(a) (4)
(ii) . See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.
Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines
the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the
listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a) (4) (iii), 416.920(a) (4) (iii) .
See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for
the listed impairments, known as Listings, are enumerated in
20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (Listed
Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The
claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained,
work-related physical and mental activities the claimant can
still do on a regular and continuing basis despite his
limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
See also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. "A
'regular and continuing basis' means 8 hours a day,
for 5 days a week, or an equivalent schedule." SSR
96-8p, at *1. In other words, the Social Security Act does
not require complete incapacity to be disabled. Taylor v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 659 F.3d 1228, 1234-35
(9th Cir. 2011)(citing Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597,
603 (9th Cir. 1989)).
Four the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant retains the RFC to perform work he
has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (a) (4)
(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d
Commissioner reaches Step Five, she must determine whether
the claimant is able to do any other work that exists in the
national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at
724-25. Here the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that
the claimant can perform. Lockwood v. Comm'r Soc.
Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d 1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010). The
Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of
a VE or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (or
the grids) set forth in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. part
404, subpart P, appendix 2. If the Commissioner meets this
burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
One the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since March 1, 2014, Plaintiff's amended
alleged disability onset date. Tr. 20.
Two the ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of
"compartment syndrome left forearm, bicuspid aortic
valve without aortic stenosis." Tr. 20.
Three the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's medically
determinable impairments do not meet or medically equal one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P,
appendix 1. Tr. 23. The ALJ found Plaintiff has the RFC to
perform sedentary work, is able to lift and/or to carry up to
ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently,
to stand and/or to walk up to six hours in an eight-hour work
day, and to sit approximately six hours in an eight-hour work
day. The ALJ found Plaintiff cannot push or pull with his
left arm; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; ...