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Amos A. C. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

July 10, 2019

AMOS A. C.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Mustafa T. Kasubhai United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Amos A. C. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner's”) decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Both parties consent to jurisdiction by a U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court remands for the immediate calculation and award of benefits.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on September 24, 2014, alleging disability beginning June 20, 1987. Tr. 72. His claims were initially denied and Plaintiff timely requested and appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Steven A. De Mondbreum on April 18, 2017. Id. During the hearing, Plaintiff's attorney amended the onset date of disability to September 24, 2014 (“AOD”). Tr. 72, 214. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application in a written decision dated June 21, 2017. See Tr. 72-88. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council. See Tr. 6-63. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-4. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the decision.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, a court reviews the administrative record as a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion.” Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989).

         DISCUSSION

         The Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. Id. If the claimant satisfies his burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the commissioner at step five. Id.; see also Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995). At step five, the Commissioner must show that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled. Id. If, however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Id.; see also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001).

         In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended onset date of September 24, 2014. Tr. 74. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; nonischemic cardiomyopathy status post internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD) placement; diabetes type I; Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease; right eye blindness; history of borderline intelligence; unspecified depression; anxiety disorder not otherwise specified; and panic attacks as a reaction to stress. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listed impairment in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listings”). Tr. 76.

         Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained residual functional capacity (“RFC”) that allowed him to perform light work. Tr. 78. Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff can:

lift/carry, including upward pulling, ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally. He is able to stand and/or walk for two hours total in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. He is able to sit for six or more hours total in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. He is able to perform work limited to frequent bilateral handling and fingering. He is able to perform work limited to occasional climbing of ramps or stairs, but can never climbing [sic] ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He is able to perform work limited to frequent kneeling, crouching, crawling, and/or stooping. He must have no exposure to hazards, such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. He is able to perform work limited to only simple, easy to learn, routine, unskilled work with a Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) General Education Development (GED) reasoning level of two or less.

Tr. 78-79.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. Tr. 86. At step five, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform based on his age, education, work experience, and RFC, such as escort vehicle driver, assembler small products I, electronic assembler, and food checker. Tr. 87.

         Plaintiff seeks review by this Court contending that (1) the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff did not meet the requirement of the Listings - specifically 4.02 - at step three; (2) the ALJ failed to address Dr. Puckett's November 2016 opinion classifying Plaintiff as New York Heart Association (“NYHA”) “Class II with recent III symptoms;” (3) the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons to reject Dr. Balm's opinion; and (4) the ALJ erred in rejecting Plaintiff's subjective complaints. Pl.'s Br. 2 (ECF No. 14).

         In response the Commissioner only addresses Plaintiff's contention regarding the ALJ's error at step three and “denies any arguments not specifically addressed.” See generally, Def.'s Br. (ECF No. 17). The Commissioner concedes that the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's case “because the ALJ likely did not consider all of the probative evidence, ” but objects to a reversal for an immediate calculation of benefits. Id. Instead, the Commissioner requests a remand for further administrative proceedings. Id. at 6.

         I. Listed Impairments at Step Three

         A claimant is disabled if his impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.R.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). Chronic heart failure (“CHF”) is a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, 4.00D.

         There are two main types of CHF:

(i) Predominant systolic dysfunction (the inability of the heart to contract normally and expel sufficient blood), which is characterized by a dilated, poorly contracting left ventricle and reduced ejection fraction (abbreviated EF, it represents the percentage of the blood in the ventricle actually pumped out with each contraction), and
(ii) Predominant diastolic dysfunction (the inability of the heart to relax and fill normally), which is characterized by a thickened ventricular muscle, poor ability of the left ventricle to distend, increased ventricular filling pressure, and a normal or increased EF.

20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, 4.00D1a.

         Listing 4.02 provides:

The required level of severity for [the Listing 4.02 CHF] impairment is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied.

         A. Medically documented presence of one of the following:

1. Systolic failure (see 4.00D1a(i)), with left ventricular end diastolic dimensions greater than 6.0 cm or ejection fraction of 30 percent or less during a period of stability (not during an episode of acute heart failure); or
AND
B. Resulting in one of the ...

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