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Heather T. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 15, 2019

HEATHER T., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          George Wall Attorney for Plaintiff

          Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney Renata Gowie, Asst. U.S. Attorney Heather Griffith Special Asst. U.S. Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendants

          OPINION AND ORDER

          John Jelderks, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Social Security Act (the Act). Plaintiff requests the Court remand this action to the Social Security Administration (the Agency) for further proceedings.

         For the reasons set out below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and this action is remanded for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed applications for SSI benefits and a period of disability and DIB on March 11, 2013, alleging she had been disabled since April 15, 2010. After her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing.

         On November 5, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Paul Robeck. Plaintiff and Richard Hincks, an impartial vocational expert (VE), testified at the hearing. Plaintiff was represented by counsel.

         In a decision dated November 30, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

         On January 26, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In the present action, Plaintiff challenges that decision.

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1980 and was 35 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff has a high school education and obtained an Associate's Degree in Science and General Studies. She has past relevant work as a property manager.

         Disability Analysis

         The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Below is a summary of the five steps, which also are described in Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Step One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A claimant engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under Step Two. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

         Step Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not have such an impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under Step Three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).

         Step Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines whether the claimant's impairment “meets or equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has such an impairment is disabled. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an impairment listed in the regulations, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under Step Four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

         Step Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to perform relevant work he or she has done in the past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do work performed in the past, the Commissioner's evaluation ...


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