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Patrick A. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 25, 2019

PATRICK A.,[1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Youlee Yim You, United States Magistrate Judge

         Patrick A. (“plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI Social Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Because the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, it is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         Born in 1964, plaintiff was 51 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 66. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a concrete mixer driver, delivery truck driver, sheriff's deputy, and dump truck driver. Tr. 27.

         Plaintiff has been diagnosed with hypertension, type II diabetes with peripheral neuropathy, severe alcohol use disorder, depression, hyperlipidemia, sleep apnea, obesity, and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). Tr. 476, 512-13, 520, 937, 943, 1116, 1149, 1353.

         Plaintiff has reported that the sole cause of his PTSD was a traumatic event during his Navy Seal training in which he drowned and had to be resuscitated. Tr. 929. However, as a child, plaintiff suffered from extreme emotional and physical abuse from his father. Tr. 1207. Therefore, Dr. Schlievert has opined that plaintiff's PTSD is related to his childhood abuse, his Navy Seal training, and his work as a sheriff's deputy. Tr. 930. The VA has determined that plaintiff is 100% disabled due to his PTSD. Tr. 934.

         Dr. Schlievert concluded that plaintiff's alcohol abuse was a result of his PTSD and that plaintiff used alcohol to manage his anxiety. Tr. 906. Plaintiff reported that he drank a fifth of vodka every day for over thirty years. Tr. 529.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on January 11, 2016, alleging disability beginning October 1, 2015. Tr. 14. Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on June 29, 2016, and upon reconsideration on October 14, 2016. Id. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June 8, 2017, in which the plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 35-60. On August 31, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 14-28. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. Tr. 2-7. The ALJ's decision is therefore the Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this court. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The reviewing 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. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion and “‘may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)). The reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner when the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the decision. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Instead, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld if it is “supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted); see also Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035.

         SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS AND ALJ FINDINGS

         Disability is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or 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 engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. This sequential analysis is set forth in the Social Security regulations, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, in Ninth Circuit case law, Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006) (discussing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)), and in the ALJ's decision in this case, Tr. 15-16.

         At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after October 1, 2015. Tr. 16.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obstructive sleep apnea, congestive heart failure, hypertension, type II diabetes with neuropathy, PTSD, major depressive disorder, and alcohol use disorder. Tr. 16-17.

         At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Tr. 17. The ALJ next assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined that he could perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except he must avoid exposure to workplace hazards such as heights and heavy machinery, he can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, repetitive tasks, and he can have no more than occasional contact with the general public and coworkers. Tr. 19.

         At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a concrete mixer, delivery truck driver, sheriff's deputy, or dump truck driver. Tr. 26-27.

         At step five the ALJ determined plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including photocopy machine operator, office ...


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