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Thomas J. C. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

August 5, 2019

THOMAS J. C.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Mustafa T. Kasubhai, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Thomas J. C. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner's”) decision denying her 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 protectively filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 28, 2014, alleging disability beginning November 14, 2012. Tr. 147, 162. His claims were initially denied and Plaintiff timely requested and appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mark Triplett on November 30, 2016. Tr. 34. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application in a written decision dated January 6, 2017. See Tr. 18-27. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. 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. Tr. 894. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of November 14, 2012. Tr. 20. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, peripheral neuropathy, and obesity.” 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. 20-21.

         Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained residual functional capacity (“RFC”) that allowed him to perform light work. Specifically, Plaintiff “could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour day, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour day.” Tr. 21. However, Plaintiff “could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and had to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold.” Id.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work. Tr. 25. 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 office helper, telephone survey worker, and outside deliverer. Tr. 26-27.

         Plaintiff seeks review by this Court contending that the ALJ erred in (1) improperly discounting treating doctors' opinions, (2) improperly rejecting Plaintiff's subjective complaints, and (3) improperly omitting functional limitations of Plaintiff in posing the hypotheticals, rendering the Vocational Expert's opinions incomplete and invalid. Pl.'s Br. 10-17 (ECF No. 12).

         I. Medical ...


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