United States District Court, D. Oregon
Wilborn, Wilborn Law Office, P.C., P.O. Box 370578, Las
Vegas, NV 89137. Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, United States
Attorney's Office, 1000 S.W. Third Avenue, Suite 600,
Portland, OR 97204; Heather L. Griffith, Special Assistant
United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social
Security Administration, 701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2900 M/S
221A, Seattle, WA 98104. Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge.
Brian T. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of
the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for Social Security Disability insurance benefits
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 416 and 423. This Court
has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Because Plaintiff's
date of last insured was December 31, 2012, Plaintiff must
establish disability on or before that date in order to be
entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits. After carefully reviewing the ALJ's decision
and the evidence in the record, the Court REVERSES the
decision of the ALJ.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings
are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” means
“more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995)). It means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews, 53
F.3d at 1039).
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be
upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a
rational reading of the record, and this Court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190,
1193, 1196 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] reviewing court must
consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation
marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm
the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did
not rely. Id.; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at
was born on April 2, 1959 and was 53 years old at the alleged
onset of disability. Plaintiff has at least a high school
education, is able to communicate in English, and has
previously worked as a home attendant, a production technical
semi-contractor, a general maintenance helper, a tree
trimmer, and a pre-cast molder. AR 26-27. He filed for
disability insurance benefits on June 19, 2013, alleging
disability based on lumbar spine degenerative disc disease
and foraminal stenosis of the lumbar spine status post
laminectomies, epidural lipomatosis status post removal,
neurogenic claudication, degenerative disc disease of the
cervical spine, and obesity. AR 17.
application was denied initially on February 14, 2014, and
upon reconsideration on November 21, 2014. He requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). AR 15. A hearing was held on May 19,
2016, in Portland Oregon. Plaintiff was represented by
counsel and testified. Id. On September 14, 2016,
the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's
application. AR 28. Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals
Council, but the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review on December 7, 2017, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1.
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of that decision.
The Sequential Analysis
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 Soc. Sec.
Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (DIB), 416.920
(SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987).
Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential
process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant
mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay
or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510, 416.910. If the
claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe”
under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
impairment or combination of impairments is
“severe” if it significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a).
Unless expected to result in death, this impairment must have
lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of at
least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 416.909. If
the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis
ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment
does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments,
the analysis continues. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate
medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine
the claimant's “residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”). This is an assessment of work-related
activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular
and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his
or her ...