United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION & ORDER
MICHAEL MCSHANE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Andy S. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).
The Court concludes that the ALJ erred by failing to provide
legally sufficient reasons for discounting Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony and for failing to provide
legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician. Accordingly, the decision
of the Commissioner is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED for
filed a Title II application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on August 7, 2013, alleging
disability beginning August 20, 2011. Tr. 16. His
applications were denied. Id. Plaintiff appeared by
video conference before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) at a hearing held December 10, 2015.
Id. On February 8, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision
finding Plaintiff disabled beginning August 23, 2015. Tr. 25.
The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1. This
claimant is disabled if he or she is unable 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). “Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act.” Keyser v. Comm'r, 648 F.3d
721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).
The five-steps are: (1) Is the claimant presently working in
a substantially gainful activity? (2) Is the claimant's
impairment severe? (3) Does the impairment meet or equal one
of a list of specific impairments described in the
regulations? (4) Is the claimant able to perform any work
that he or she has done in the past? and (5) Are there
significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the
claimant can perform?
Id. at 724-25; see also Bustamante v.
Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953. The Commissioner bears
the burden of proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. At
step five, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can
perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy, “taking into consideration the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999). If the Commissioner fails to
meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If,
however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to
perform other work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, the claimant is not disabled.
Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54.
performed the sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 18. The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: discogenic and degenerative disorder of the
cervical spine; carpal tunnel syndrome; and chronic
headaches. Id. The ALJ determined that
Plaintiff's severe impairments did not meet or equal a
listed impairment. Tr. 18-20.
determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work
with the following additional limitations: he is limited to
occasional climbing of ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling; frequent bilateral reaching and no
work above shoulder level; frequent gross and fine
manipulation with the bilateral upper extremities; avoiding
concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, and excessive
vibration; avoiding the operational control of moving
machinery; and avoiding exposure to hazardous machinery and
unprotected heights. Tr. 20.
August 23, 2015, Plaintiff's age category changed from
“an individual closely approaching advanced age”
to “an individual of advanced age.” Tr. 23.
Beginning on that date, the ALJ determined that there were no
jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform. Tr. 24. Accordingly,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was disabled as of August
23, 2015. Id.
respect to the period between the alleged onset date and
August 23, 2015, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff has at least a
high school education and is able to communicate in English.
Tr. 23. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform
any of his past relevant work. Id. Based on his RFC,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform work as
a cashier II, self-service store attendant, and mailroom
sorter. Tr. 24. As a consequence, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled during the period between the
alleged onset date of August 20, 2011, and August 23, 2015.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r, 359
F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence
“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)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In reviewing
the Commissioner's alleged errors, this 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). Variable
interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the
Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v.
Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one
rational interpretation, courts must defer to the ALJ's
conclusion. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1198 (citing
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir.
1995)). A reviewing court, however, cannot affirm the
Commissioner's decision on a ground that the agency did
not invoke in making its decision. Stout v.
Comm'r, 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006).
Finally, a court may not reverse an ALJ's decision on
account of an error that is harmless. Id. at
1055-56. “[T]he burden of showing ...