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Leona R. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 11, 2019

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

          BRIAN SCOTT WAYSON Of Attorney for Plaintiff,

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney, RENATA GOWIE ssistant United States Attorney

          LISA GOLDOFTAS Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Of Attorney for Defendant

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOHN V. ACOSTA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Leona R. ("Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II the Social Security Act ("Act"). This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on a careful review of the record, the Commissioner's decision should be REVERSED and this case should be REMANDED for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on June 3, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of April 8, 2014 due to degenerative disc disease, arthritis, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, hypertension, sleep apnea, incontinence, migraines, asthma, vertigo, and hypothyroidism. (Tr. 90-91, 94-95.) Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 151-55, 158-60.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and an administrative hearing was held on February 24, 2017. (Tr. 103-25.) ALJ Paul Robeck issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled on April 20, 2017. (Tr. 85-98.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on May 1, 2018, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-67.) This appeal followed.

         Factual Background

         Born in August 1960, Plaintiff was 53 years old on her alleged onset date. (Tr. 88.) She completed the twelfth grade. (Tr. 210.) Plaintiff previously worked as a caregiver, floor manager, and salesperson. (Id.)

         Standard of Review

         The 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. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected ... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, she is not disabled.

         At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, she is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or equal "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). If so, she is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, she is not disabled; if she cannot, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.

         At step five, the Commissioner must establish the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.

         ALJ's ...


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