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Joseph G. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 2, 2019

DANIEL JOSEPH G., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Merrill Schneider Schneider Kerr & Robichaux Attorney for Plaintiff,

          Renata Gowie Assistant United States Attorney Joseph J. Langkamer Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Daniel G. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). The Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for the further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on February 4, 2014, alleging disability as of April 30, 2006. Tr. 13, 168-74, 177-86.[2] Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to March 31, 1999, to correspond with his date last insured (“DLI”) for DIB. Tr. 175. His application was denied at first and on reconsideration. Tr. 13. On February 10, 2017, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 33-56. On April 10, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 27. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleged disability because of diabetes, arthritis, back pain, chronic pain syndrome, multiple joint pain, and “level conscience decreased.” Tr. 200. He was 34 at the time of his amended alleged onset date and 52 at the time of the administrative hearing. Tr. 26. Plaintiff has a limited education and no past relevant work experience. Id.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See, e.g., Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). 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. 137 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 the impairment meets or equals “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 to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, 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 can perform other work in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after his amended alleged onset date of March 31, 1999. Tr. 22. Regarding Plaintiff's DIB claim, the ALJ found at step two that Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments as of the DLI. Tr. 15-18. Thus, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled regarding his DIB claim.

         As to Plaintiff's SSI claim, the ALJ determined at steps two and three that as of February 4, 2014, Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: “Obesity, degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, degenerative joint disease of the knees, right lateral femoral cutaneous neuropathy, hernia of the abdominal wall, a depressive disorder and an anxiety disorder.” Tr. 22. Even so, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. Tr. 18-20. The ALJ next determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to:

[L]ift, carry, push and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can sit up to six hours in an eight-hour workday. He can stand and walk five hours total in an eight-hour workday. He is limited to occasional climbing ramps and stairs. He can never climb ladders and scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He is precluded from working at unprotected heights, with heavy operating machinery, or operating a motor vehicle. He needs to avoid concentrated exposure to machinery causing vibrations. He needs to use a cane when traversing rough, uneven or sloped terrains. He is limited to simple and detailed tasks and simple and detailed decision-making. He is limited to routine and repetitive tasks.

Tr. 20. The ALJ found Plaintiff had no past relevant work at step four. Tr. 26. At step five, the ALJ found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, such as advertising material distributor, price marker, and silver wrapper. Tr. 26-27. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. Tr. 27.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “Substantial evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla, but less than preponderance.” Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.

         The court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998)). The reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a rational reading. Id.; see also Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Yet the court ...


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