United States District Court, D. Oregon
Merrill Schneider SCHNEIDER, KERR, & ROBICHAUX Attorney
Gowie Assistant United States Attorney District of Oregon
Heather L. Griffith Social Security Administration Office of
the General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Joan L. brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her 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 further proceedings.
applied for DIB and SSI on April 17, 2012, alleging
disability as of February 14, 2011. Tr. 144. Her applications
were denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. A
hearing was held on October 21, 2014, before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 82. On December 10, 2014,
the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 158-59. The
Appeals Council vacated the hearing decision and remanded the
case for further consideration by the same ALJ. Tr. 164-67.
January 19, 2017, a supplemental hearing was held and
Plaintiff appeared with counsel. Tr. 35. On July 12, 2017,
the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled during the relevant
period. Tr. 25- 26. The Appeals Council denied review of the
ALJ's opinion. Tr. 1-6.
initially alleged disability based on chronic back pain,
arthritis, obesity, and fibromyalgia. Tr. 99. She was 59 at
the time of her alleged onset date and 65 at the time of the
second administrative hearing. Tr. 35, 99. Plaintiff has a
high school education and two Associate's Degrees with
past relevant work as a clerical worker. Tr. 25, 40.
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.
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.
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.
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. at141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) &
(f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets her
burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other
work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity after her alleged onset date of
February 14, 2011. Tr. 19. Next, at step two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: “low back pain (presumed lumbar spine
degenerative disc disease); fibromyalgia; phlebitis; edema of
lower extremities; and obesity.” Tr. 20. However, at
step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of a
listed impairment. Tr. 22. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) with the following limitations:
[S]he can lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and
frequently. She can sit for six hours in an eight-hour day
and stand or walk for two hours each in an eight-hour day,
but requires a cane for walking any significant distance
outside her home. She can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can
occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She must avoid
concentrated exposure to unprotected heights due to antalgic
gait and the use of a cane.
Id. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
could perform her past relevant work as a clerical worker.
Tr. 25. By finding plaintiff was able to do past relevant
work, the ALJ determined plaintiff was not disabled;
therefore, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4); 404.1520(f).
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