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Judi T.-C v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 1, 2019

JUDI T.-C., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Tim D. Wilborn Attorney for Plaintiff

          Billy Williams United States Attorney Renata Gowie Assistant United States Attorney

          Heather L. Griffith Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Judi T.-C. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). The issues before the Court are whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1) discounting Plaintiff's testimony; (2) discounting the lay opinion of Carol Rogers, Plaintiff's friend and employer; (3) classifying Plaintiff's past relevant work as that of a “receptionist” when the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing such work at step four; and (4) finding in the alternative that Plaintiff is capable of performing other work available in the national economy at step five. The Court reverses the Commissioner's final decision and remands for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Opinion and Order.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB on October 17, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of July 2, 2013. Tr. 172.[2] Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 23, 2017, before ALJ Elizabeth Watson. Tr. 29. In a written decision issued February 17, 2017, ALJ Watson found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 14-23. On March 16, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, rendering ALJ Watson's decision final. Tr. 1-5.


         A claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a “medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal “one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the RFC to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.


         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 2, 2013, the alleged onset date. Tr. 16.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, and left sternoclavicular joint arthritis. Tr. 16-18.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 18.

         Before step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform work consistent with the following limitations:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she is limited to lifting and/or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. [Sh]e is limited to sitting, standing, and/or walking each about six hours each in an eight hour workday, with normal breaks. The claimant is limited to no more than frequent climbing of ramps or stairs and no climbing of ladders, ropes, or ...

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