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John T. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

July 19, 2019

JOHN T., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOHN V. ACOSTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         John T. ("plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") 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). Based on a careful review of the record, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and REMANDED for the immediate calculation and payment of benefits.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on November 12, 2013, alleging disability as of January 1, 1971, due to back and leg pain, being a "slow learner, problems understanding," and "sharp pains in [his] chest." (Tr. 16, 224, 249.) His applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 115-18.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and a hearing was held on June 1, 2016. (Tr. 36-93.) ALJ Steven A. De Monbreum issued a decision finding plaintiffnot disabled on July 29, 2016. (Tr. 13-30.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review on September 11, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6.) This appeal followed.

         Factual Background

         Born in 1963, plaintiff was seven years old on the alleged onset date, and fifty-two years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 28.) He dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade. (Tr. 43.) Plaintiff previously worked as a forest firefighter and dishwasher. (Tr. 28.)

         Standard of Review

         The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected ... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowenv. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140(1987);20C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity" ("SGA"). Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If so, he is not disabled.

         At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or equal "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, he is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, he is not disabled; if he cannot, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.

         At step five, the Commissioner must establish the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the Commissioner meets this ...


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