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Suzanne F. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 28, 2019

SUZANNE F., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Merrill Schneider SCHNEIDER KERR & ROBICHAUX, Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Renata Gowie ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Sarah L. Martin, SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Office of the General Counsel, Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Suzanne F. brings this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny supplemental security income (SSI). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)). The Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for immediate payment of benefits.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on February 23, 2011, alleging an onset date of February 1, 2011. Tr. 321, 115.[2] Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 136, 143. On October 30, 2012, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 32. On November 29, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 101. On May 16, 2014, The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded for further proceedings. Tr. 107-08. Plaintiff appeared again, with counsel, for a supplemental hearing before the ALJ on March 3, 2016. Tr. 113. On March 24, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 129. The Appeals Council denied further review on February 27, 2018. Tr. 1.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges disability based on borderline intellectual functioning, neuropathy in her upper extremities, hypothyroidism, goiter, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, and polysubstance abuse. Tr. 370. At the time of the hearing, she was 43 years old. Tr. 57. Plaintiff did not complete high school and has no relevant past work experience. Tr. 409, 128.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION

         A claimant is disabled if he or she is 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 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; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         In step three, the Commissioner determines whether plaintiff's impairments, singly 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, 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 whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must 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 that 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 ...


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