United States District Court, D. Oregon
WILBORN Wilborn Law Office, P.C. Attorney for Plaintiff
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant
United States Attorney MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief
Counsel HEATHER L. GRIFFITH Special Assistant United States
Attorney Social Security Administration Attorneys for
OPINION AND ORDER
J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.
Mercedes A. seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration in
which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the
Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) .
reasons that follow, the Court REVERSES the
decision of the Commissioner and REMANDS
April 10, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed her application
for DIB benefits. Tr. 24, 175. Plaintiff alleges a disability
onset date of November 1, 2013. Tr. 24, 276. Plaintiff's
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on April 12,
2016. Tr. 24, 51-90. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE)
testified at the hearing. Plaintiff was represented by an
attorney at the hearing.
September 14, 2016, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he
found Plaintiff was disabled and entitled to benefits for a
closed period from November 1, 2013, through June 8, 2015,
but the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled and not entitled
to benefits beginning on June 9, 2015, through the date of
the ALJ's decision. Tr. 24-39. Plaintiff requested review
by the Appeals Council. On January 26, 2018, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the
ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. See Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000) .
March 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.
was born on December 13, 1976. Tr. 176. Plaintiff was 36
years old on her alleged disability onset date. Tr. 187.
Plaintiff completed high school and has a master's
degree. Tr. 34, 62. Plaintiff has past relevant work
experience as a financial analyst and research analyst. Tr.
alleges disability due to Lyme disease, cognitive problems,
chronic-fatigue syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia
syndrome (POTS), memory problems, and allergies. Tr. 92.
as 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. 28-38.
initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish
disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110
(9th Cir. 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, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).
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 "relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Molina, 614 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 evaluating a claimant's testimony,
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. 2006).
The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation
One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (SGA) . 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (4) (i) .
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. §
404.1509, 404.1520(a) (4) (ii) . 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 the
listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(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. § 404.1520(e). See also
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. "A 'regular and
continuing basis' means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week,
or an equivalent schedule." SSR 96-8p, at *l. 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.
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. § 404.1520(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. § 404.1520(a) (4) (v) .
See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724-25. 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 (or the grids)
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. §§
One the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since November 1, 2013, Plaintiff's
alleged disability onset date. Tr. 27.
Two the ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of
chronic-fatigue syndrome, organic mental disorder, and POTS.
Three the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's medically
determinable impairments do not meet or medically equal one
of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P,
appendix 1. Tr. 28, 35. The ALJ found Plaintiff has the RFC
to perform sedentary work with the following limitations: can
stand and walk for a combined total of two hours in an
eight-hour day; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs;
should not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can
occasionally balance and stoop; should not have exposure to
hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical
parts; is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks with a
general educational development (GED) level of ...