United States District Court, D. Oregon
Merrill Schneider Attorney for Plaintiff
J. Williams, U.S. Attorney Renata Gowie, Asst. U.S. Attorney
OR Ryan Ta Lu Special Asst. U.S. Attorney Attorneys for
OPINION AND ORDER
Jelderks U.S. Magistrate Judge
brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) seeking
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) under the Social Security Act (the
Act). Plaintiff requests the Court remand this action to the
Social Security Administration (the Agency) for an award of
reasons set out below, the Commissioner's decision is
reversed, and this action is remanded for further
Plaintiff filed applications for SSI benefits and a period of
disability and DIB on June 28, 2012, alleging she had been
disabled since May 3, 2011. After her claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an
October 3, 2014, a hearing was held before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Cecilia LaCara. Plaintiff and William Weiss, an
impartial vocational expert (VE), testified at the hearing.
Plaintiff was represented by counsel.
decision dated January 7, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. In the present action,
Plaintiff challenges that decision.
Plaintiff was born in 1961 and was 53 years old at the time
of ALJ LaCara's decision. Plaintiff graduated from
college, has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has
past relevant work experience as a clinical supervisor, child
advocate social service director, and family support social
ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine
whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Below is a summary
of the five steps, which also are described in Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir.
One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A claimant
engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is
not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner
proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under Step Two.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not
have such an impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has
a severe impairment, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate
the claimant's case under Step Three. 20 C.F.R. §
Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe
impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines
whether the claimant's impairment “meets or
equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments
listed in the Social Security Administration (SSA)
regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A
claimant who has such an impairment is disabled. If the
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an
impairment listed in the regulations, the Commissioner's
evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under Step
Four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
is able to perform relevant work he or she has done in the
past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not
disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do
work performed in the past, the Commissioner's evaluation
of the claimant's case proceeds under Step Five. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
Five. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform
other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds that the
claimant is able to do other work, the Commissioner must show
that a significant number of jobs exist in the national
economy that the claimant can do. The Commissioner may
satisfy this burden through the testimony of a vocational
expert (VE) or by reference to the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the
Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs
exist in the national economy that the claimant can do, the
claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does not meet
this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
Steps One through Four, the burden of proof is on the
claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. At Step Five,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the
claimant can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy. Id.
preliminary matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements through December 31, 2016.
One, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 3, 2011, the alleged
second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe
impairment of osteoarthritis.
Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled
a presumptively disabling impairment set out in the Listing
of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526
416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926).
proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ assessed
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC). She found
that Plaintiff retained the functional capacity to ...