United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
D. CLARKE, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Heidi K. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner denying her applications for SSI and SSDIB under
the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to
magistrate jurisdiction. For the reasons below, the
Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for
was born on January 26, 1970 and was 39 years old at the
established onset date. Tr. 33. She has at least a high
school education and has past relevant work as a bookkeeper,
night auditor, food service manager, user support analyst,
and administrative secretary. Tr. 32. She alleges disability
beginning October 4, 2011, due to fibromyalgia and chronic
fatigue, migraine headaches, middle back strain, and
adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression. On July 25,
2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff also
filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security
income on the same date. In both applications, the claimant
alleged disability beginning December 15, 2009. These claims
were denied initially on February 13, 2014, and upon
reconsideration on November 12, 2014. Thereafter, Plaintiff
filed a written request for hearing on December 19, 2014. Tr.
19. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
whose December 16, 2016, denial became final when the Appeals
Council chose not to review it on December 19, 2017. Tr. 1.
Plaintiff now seeks review.
procedural matter, Plaintiff previously filed an application
on February 28, 2011, which was addressed in a prior
determination dated October 3, 2011. This determination
became administratively final when Plaintiff did not request
review within the stated time period. Tr. 19. Accordingly,
the relevant period in this case is from October 4, 2011. Tr.
20. Any discussion of evidence prior to this date is for the
limited purpose of establishing the existence of Plaintiffs
medically determinable impairments, evaluating the Plaintiffs
symptoms, and providing a historical context of the
Plaintiffs current condition. Id.
claimant is disabled if he or she is 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). "Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act." Keyser v. Comm 'r. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Each step is
potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 4, 16.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential
process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing "substantial gainful
activity"? 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(i);
416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant
mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay
or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510; 416.910. If the
claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the
claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, the
analysis proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment "severe" under
the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Unless expected to
result in death, an impairment is "severe" if it
significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1521(a); 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or
must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least
12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1509; 416.909. If the
claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis
ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii);
416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment "meet or
equal" one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.152O(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment
does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments,
the analysis proceeds to the "residual functional
capacity" ("RFC") assessment.
a. The ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence
to assess and determine the claimant's RFC. This is an
assessment of work- related activities that the claimant may
still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 416.920(e);
416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's
RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her "past relevant
work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant
is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(iv);
416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her
past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v);
404.1560(c); 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such
work, he or she is disabled. Id.
See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949,
954-55 (9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 954. The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. At step five, the
Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, "taking into consideration the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
experience." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1100 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566; 416.966
(describing "work which exists in the national
economy"). If the Commissioner fails to meet this
burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). 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. Bustamante,
262 F.3d at 954-55; Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.