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Timothy S. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 3, 2019

TIMOTHY S., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Kathryn Tassinari Mark Manning HARDER, WELLS, BARON & MANNING, P.C. Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Renata Gowie Assistant United States Attorney District of Oregon Sarah Martin Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Timothy S. seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)). The Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on November 26, 2014. Tr. 192, 194.[2] Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of June 20, 2012. Id. Plaintiff's date last insured is December 31, 2017. Tr. 213. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 128, 133, 139, 142. On February 17, 2017, Plaintiff appeared with counsel for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 36. On April 17, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 23. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initially alleged disability based on sciatica, gout, lower back pain, depression, obesity, and high blood pressure. Tr. 217. He was 37 years old at the time of his alleged onset date and 41 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. Tr. 21. Plaintiff has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a caregiver, a groundskeeper, a dishwasher, and a cook helper. Tr. 21-22.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION

         A claimant is disabled if 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. See 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.

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

         In step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "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.

         In step four, the Commissioner determines if the claimant, despite any impairment, has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If so, the claimant is not disabled; if not, the burden shifts to the Commissioner in step five to 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 his burden and proves 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.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after his alleged onset date of June 20, 2012. Tr. 16. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's obesity, sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension were not severe, but Plaintiff's “degenerative disk disease” was a severe impairment. Id. However, at step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's severe impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. Tr. 18. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with the following limitations: “[T]he claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and he is able to occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can also occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant requires the option to sit/stand/change positions at will.” Id. Because of these limitations, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a caregiver, a groundskeeper, a dishwasher, or a cook helper. Tr. ...


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