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Joann R. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division

August 6, 2019

JOANN R., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Youlee Yim You, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Joann R. (“plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI Social 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). The Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence; therefore, it is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.


         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on September 2, 2014, alleging disability beginning June 28, 2011. Tr. 18. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on December 5, 2014, and upon reconsideration on February 25, 2015. Tr. 96-97, 131-32. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 23, 2017, in which plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 41-95. On June 16, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 18-29. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's decision is therefore the Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this court. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210.


         The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion and “‘may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)). The reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner when the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the decision. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Instead, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld if it is “supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted); see also Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035.


         Disability is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or 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). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. This sequential analysis is set forth in the Social Security regulations, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, in Ninth Circuit case law, Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006) (discussing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)), and in the ALJ's decision in this case, Tr. 19-20.

         At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 20.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, anxiety disorder, and cannabis abuse disorder. Tr. 21.

         At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Tr. 22. The ALJ next assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined she could perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), finding she could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk for six hours of an eight-hour workday, sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, occasionally climb stairs, ramps, ladders, ropes or scaffolding, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, she must avoid concentrate exposure to vibrations or hazards, such as moving machinery or unprotected heights, she must avoid concentrated exposure to lung irritants, such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and/or poor ventilation, she can have no more than occasional interaction with the public, she is limited to simple, routine work tasks, she is limited to the performance of low-stress work, such as no persuasive communication tasks, no teamwork tasks, no fast-paced or production-rate tasks, and few changes of work routine or setting. Tr. 24.

         At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff was not able to perform her past relevant work as a commercial cleaner or farm laborer. Tr. 28.

         At step five the ALJ determined plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including inspector and packager, ...

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