United States District Court, D. Oregon
STOLZBERG Attorney for Plaintiff
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant
United States Attorney
MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel SARAH L. MARTIN
Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security
Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
J. BROWN, UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE
Tameaka H. seeks judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in
which she denied Plaintiff's application for 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.
reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the
decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS
this matter for further proceedings.
filed an application for SSI on November 2, 2012, and alleged
a disability onset date of January 1, 1999. Tr.
201-09. Her application was denied initially and
on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a
hearing on December 15, 2014. Tr. 36-86. Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing, and
Plaintiff was represented by an attorney.
December 10, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he
noted Plaintiff had filed a previous application for SSI that
had been denied and concluded there “is no apparent
reason to reopen” that decision. Accordingly, the ALJ
found the relevant period for this application is November 2,
2012, through the present. Tr. 14. Ultimately the ALJ found
Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to
benefits. Tr. 14-27.
February 10, 2017, that decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-7. See Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
was born on December 15, 1984, and was 30 years old at the
time of the hearing. Tr. 201. Plaintiff has an eleventh-grade
education. Tr. 20. Plaintiff does not have any past relevant
work experience. Tr. 28.
alleges disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), severe depression, bi-polar disorder, and “slow
learning.” Tr. 87.
when 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. 21-22, 24-27.
initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish
disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110
(9thCir. 2012). To meet this burden a claimant
must demonstrate her 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, 459B60 (9th Cir.
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 Arelevant 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 determining credibility, 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.
The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation
Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential inquiry to
determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning
of the Act. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746
(9th Cir. 2007). See also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive.
One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). 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. §
416.920(c). 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 a number
of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are
so severe they preclude substantial gainful activity. 20
C.F.R. § 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 Impairments).
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 her
limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a). See also
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. AA '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 she
has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.
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. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). See
also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. 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 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. § 416.920(g)(1).
One the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her November 2, 2012, application
date. Tr. 16.
Two the ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of
hypothyroid, schizoaffective disorder, depression, history of
alcohol abuse, history of marijuana abuse, PTSD, learning
disorder, anxiety disorder, and history of amphetamine abuse.
Three the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's impairments do not
meet or equal the criteria for any Listed Impairment from 20
C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. The ALJ found
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform “a full range of work
at all exertional levels that is low stress, meaning it
consists of simple, routing, repetitive tasks, that do not
require more than superficial interaction, . . . more than