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Rebekah H. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

March 30, 2019

Rebekah H., [1]Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, [2]Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANN AIKEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Rebekah H, brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied Plaintiffs application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         On May, 172013, plaintiff filed for DIB with a date last insured of September 30, 2015. In her applications, plaintiff alleged disability beginning on March 1, 2012 due to a combination of physical impairments, including migraine headaches; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post lumbar discectomy and decompression; degenerative disc disease and spondylosis of the cervical spine; bilateral hip osteoarthritis, status post bilateral hip arthroplasties; osteoarthritis of the left wrist; and left carpal tunnel syndrome.

         Her claims were denied initially on October 17, 2013, and upon reconsideration on April 23, 2014. On May 15, 2014, plaintiff filed a written request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). An administrative hearing was held on April 20, 2016, where plaintiff was represented by counsel. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") offered testimony. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued on May 17, 2016. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed the present complaint in this Court.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court must affirm the ALJ's decision unless it contains legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence." Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec, Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006)). Harmless legal errors are not grounds for reversal. Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The court must evaluate the complete record and weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

         COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden. The plaintiff 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).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the alleged onset date of March 1, 2012 through the date last insured. Tr. 22. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments of "degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spinal area; spondylosis of the cervical spinal area; migraine headaches; osteoarlhritis of the bilateral hips, status post bilateral hip arthroplasties; osteoarthritis of the left wrist; and left carpal tunnel syndrome" Tr. 22. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At step three, the ALJ determined plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or in combination, did not meet or equal "one of the listed impairments" that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr. 23. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that plaintiff

has the RFC to lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand and/or walk up to two hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, with no more than occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no more than frequent climbing of ramps or stairs; and no more than frequent kneeling, crouching, or crawling.

         Tr. 24-25. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was "capable of performing past relevant work as a receptionist" and thus was not disabled under the Act. Tr. 32 The ALJ did not proceed to Step Five. Accordingly, the ALJ found that ...


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