United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael McShane, United States District Judge.
Susan L. brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) decision denying her
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”). This court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).
For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's final
decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
November 1961, Plaintiff was 52 years old on her alleged
onset date of January 1, 2014. Tr. 64. She has a high
school education, completed beauty school, and worked as a
hairstylist and hair cutting instructor. Tr. 7, 22, 313, 333,
503. She alleged disability due to rheumatoid arthritis,
headaches, and high blood pressure. Tr. 312.
filed her applications for SSI and DIB on September 29, 2014.
Tr. 64, 279-93. The claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr.
251. Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Christopher Dillon on
September 29, 2016 and January 3, 2017. Tr. 1-45. In a
written decision dated June 13, 2017, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's applications. Tr. 105-15. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's subsequent petition for review,
rendering the ALJ's decision final. Tr. 121-27. Plaintiff
now seeks judicial review.
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 that which detracts from the ALJ's
conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th
Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4) (2012). The burden of proof rests upon the
claimant at steps one through four, and with the Commissioner
at step five. Id.; Bustamante v. Massanari,
262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999)). At step
five, the Commissioner must demonstrate 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, 262 F.3d at 953-54.
written decision, the ALJ first found that Plaintiff was the
unmarried widow of the deceased insurance worker and met the
non-disability requirements for disabled widow's
benefits. Tr. 105. The ALJ then proceeded to perform the
sequential evaluation for Plaintiff's DIB and SSI claims.
At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2014, the
alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: cervical spine disorder; carpal tunnel syndrome
and mild degenerative joint disease of upper extremities
(hands, wrists, and elbows); respiratory disorder;
hypertension; migraines; and obesity. Id. At step
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or equaled the
requirements of the listings. Tr. 106; 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.
to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's RFC
allowed her to perform work with the following limitations:
[Plaintiff can lift] no more than 20 pounds at a time with
frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighting up to 10
pounds; pushing or pulling similar amounts; standing,
walking, and sitting for up to 6 hours each; no climbing of
ropes/ladders/scaffolding; no more than occasional ability to
perform all other postural activity; no more than frequent
reaching but no reaching above shoulder level; no more than
frequent handling and fingering, bilaterally; no more than
occasional exposure to environmental extremes, such as dust,
gas, fumes, heat[, ] cold, humidity.
Tr. 108. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff capable
of performing her past relevant work as a teacher/vocational
trainer hair cutter and hair stylist. Tr. 112-13. The ALJ
also found that, in the alternative, Plaintiff retained the
RFC to perform other jobs in the national economy including
cafeteria attendant, photocopy machine operator, and mail
clerk. Tr. 114. The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff
was not disabled from January 1, 2014 through the decision
contends the ALJ erred by: (I) failing to provide clear and
convincing reasons to reject her subjective symptom
testimony; (II) failing to credit the medical opinions of
Brent Hoffman, D.O., Nancy Shipley, M.D., and Lynn Bell,