United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division
OPINION AND ORDER
D. CLARKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lisa A. ("Plaintiff') seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administrations denying her applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons
below, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and
REMANDED for immediate payment of benefits.
was born in 1956. Tr. 45, 94. She has a high school
education. Tr. 94. Plaintiff has several diagnosed physical
and mental impairments. Her physical impairments include the
following: joint degeneration in the right shoulder, with
reduced range of motion, for which Plaintiff underwent
rotator cuff surgery, Tr. 561, 712, 731; lumbar degenerative
disc disease and arthritis, with herniated gait discs,
sciatica, and radiation of pain bilaterally to the lower
extremities, Tr. 546, 553, 559, 722-23; bilateral hip
bursitis, with accompanying back pain and reduced range of
motion, Tr. 325-27, 373-76, 500, 540, 553-54;
gastroesophageal reflux disease with Barrett's esophagus
and irritable bowel syndrome, Tr. 327; chronic muscular
strain superimposed on degenerative instability with
osteoporosis, Tr. 327; and tinnitus, Tr. 327. Plaintiff also
suffers from the following mental health impairments: anxiety
with panic disorder, Tr. 325, 360, 434, 564; depression, with
loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbance, decreased
energy, and difficulty concentrating or thinking, Tr. 359-60,
502, 564; and alcohol use disorder, Tr. 360, 366. The record
shows that Plaintiffs mental impairments worsened after the
death of her son in 2012. Tr. 502, 362-71. Her anxiety and
depression increased, as did her drinking. Tr. 502, 362-71.
Plaintiff went into alcohol recovery treatment, which she
successfully completed, Tr. 567, and the record shows that
her other mental impairments improved as a result, Tr. 65.
28, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB
and SSI, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2011, with a
date last insured (DLI) of December 31, 2015, for DIB
purposes. Tr. 18. The applications were denied initially and
upon reconsideration, and a hearing was requested. Tr. 18. On
August 18, 2016, a hearing was held before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Robert Frank Spaulding presiding from Portland,
Oregon, with Plaintiff appearing from Medford. Tr. 40-78. The
ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 29. Plaintiff filed a
request for review by the Appeals Council, which was denied.
Tr. 1-3. The ALJ's ruling thus became the final decision
of the Commissioner, and Plaintiff now seeks review of that
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). "Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act." Keyser v. Comm'r. Soc.
Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Each
step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential
process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing "substantial gainful
activity"? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i);
416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant
mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay
or profit. 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1510; 416, 910. If the
claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment "severe" under
the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(H). Unless expected to
result in death, an impairment is "severe" if it
significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1521(a); 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or
must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least
12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1509; 416.909. If the
claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis
ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404, 1520(a)(4)(ii);
416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment "meet or
equal" one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment
does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments,
the analysis proceeds to the "residual functional
capacity" ("RFC") assessment.
a. The ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence
to assess and determine the claimant's RFC. This is an
assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may
still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 416.920(e);
416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's
RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her "past relevant
work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant
is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv);
416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her
past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v);
404.1560(c); 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such
work, he or she is disabled. Id.
See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949,
954-55 (9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 954. The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. At step five, the
Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, "taking into consideration the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
experience." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1100 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566; 416.966
(describing "work which exists in the national
economy"). If the Commissioner fails to meet this
burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). 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. Bustamante,
262 F.3d at 954-55; Tackett, 180 F.3dat 1099.
the five-step analysis, the ALJ made the following findings:
1. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2015, and has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date of June 1, 2011. Tr. 20.
2. Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease, obesity, post right-shoulder
rotator cuff repair, bursitis of the right shoulder, pyriform