United States District Court, D. Oregon
J. Wall, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, United States
Attorney's Joseph J. Langkamer, Special Assistant United
States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social Security
Administration, Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge.
C. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II and supplemental security
income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. For the reasons the follow, the decision is
reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
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 may not affirm the
Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did not
rely. Id.; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at 1226.
applied for DIB and SSI on November 20, 2013. Administrative
Record (“AR”) 18. She alleged disability
beginning September 1, 2004, due to fibromyalgia,
endometriosis, chronic fatigue, chronic depression,
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), chronic
pain, borderline personality disorder, cyclothymia, a
learning disability, and pelvic organ prolapse. AR 18, 89.
Plaintiff was born in 1988 and was 15 years old on the
alleged disability onset date. AR 89. Plaintiff has a high
school education and has taken some college classes but never
obtained any certificates or degrees. AR 969. From 2005 to
2013, Plaintiff worked short stints as a cashier, nutrition
specialist, and waitress, never lasting more than a few
months at any given job. AR 241. From 2007 to 2011, Plaintiff
had a part-time job working one day per week as a learning
assistant at a school district. AR 241, 247.
Commissioner initially denied Plaintiff's application on
March 28, 2014, and again on reconsideration on August 12,
2014. AR 18. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held
on February 26, 2016. AR 38. At the hearing, the ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff and vocational expert
(“VE”) Richard Hinks. AR 38-86. The ALJ issued a
decision on August 31, 2016, finding Plaintiff not disabled.
AR 18-31. Plaintiff petitioned the Appeals Council for
review. AR 214-15. The Appeals Council denied her petition on
December 5, 2017, at which date the ALJ's decision became
the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-6. Plaintiff now
seeks review in this Court.
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 ...