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Candice E. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

June 20, 2019

CANDICE E., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Youlee Yim You, United States Magistrate Judge

         Candice E. (“plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) 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).[2] Because the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, it is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.


         Born in 1972, plaintiff was 40 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 82. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a receptionist, medical records clerk, and administrative clerk. Tr. 25.

         Plaintiff has been diagnosed with idiopathic hypersomnolence, obesity, sleep apnea, asthma respiratory distress syndrome, depression, type II diabetes, dysthymic disorder, hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism, anxiety, panic disorder, and adjustment disorder. Tr. 347, 416, 448, 453-54, 647-48, 667.

         Plaintiff quit her most recent job because she had exhausted her sick time but was still sick. She was afraid she was going to get fired, which would negatively affect her ability to find another job. Tr. 52, 159. Plaintiff claims to have a weak immune system, causing her to get sick more often and causing her symptoms to last longer. Tr. 42.


         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on September 4, 2014, alleging disability beginning December 18, 2012. Tr. 13. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on January 27, 2015, and upon reconsideration on May 1, 2015. Id. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 8, 2017, in which the plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 36-66. On May 10, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 13-27. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's decision is therefore the Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this court. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210.


         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.


         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. 14-15.

         At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after December 18, 2012, the alleged onset date. Tr. 15.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obstructive sleep apnea, idiopathic hypersomnia, type II diabetes, obesity, asthma, major depressive disorder, and anxiety. Id.

         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. 16. The ALJ next assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined that she could perform a reduced range of light work and that:

She could lift, carry, push, and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She could stand or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, and she could sit for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks. She could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She could have no exposure to moving mechanical parts or unprotected height hazards. She could understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine and repetitive instructions that can be learned in 30 days or less. She could have occasional public contact, but could not work directly with the public. She could have occasional direct coworker interaction, but could not engage in group tasks. She could have occasional supervisor contact. She was further limited to low stress work, which is defined as requiring only occasional changes in work setting and work duties and no conveyor belt paced work. She could have no exposure to atmospheric conditions.

Tr. 18.

         At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a receptionist, medical records clerk, or administrative clerk. Tr. 25.

         At step five, the ALJ found plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including cutter-and-paster, addresser, and laminator I. Tr. 26.


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to meet her burden at step five and improperly rejecting plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony.

         I. Step Five Finding

         While the claimant has the burden of proof with regard to steps one through four of the sequential analysis, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The Commissioner must show that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id. If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly concluded that she could perform the jobs of laminator I, cutter-and-paster, and addresser.

         A. Laminator I

         The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) defines the job ...

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