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Willie J. W. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 17, 2019

WILLIE J. W. [1], Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Sherwood J. Reese DREW L. JOHNSON, P.C. Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams UNITED STATES ATTORNEY District of Oregon Renata Gowie ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Heather L. Griffith SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Marco A. Hernandez, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Willie W. brings this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny supplemental security income (SSI). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)). I reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for an award of benefits.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on May 22, 2012, alleging an onset date of January 5, 2006. Tr. 189-94. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 103-06, 110-11. On November 5, 2014, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 37-65. On January 15, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 10-30. After the Appeals Council denied review, Tr. 1-7, Plaintiff filed an action in this Court.

         On August 1, 2017, Magistrate Judge Russo issued an Opinion & Order reversing the ALJ's decision and remanding for additional proceedings. Tr. 598-611. Upon remand, the ALJ conducted a second hearing on February 22, 2018, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel. Tr. 565-89. On April 20, 2018, the ALJ again found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 543-64.[2] Plaintiff filed a new action in this Court challenging the second ALJ decision. In response, Defendant agrees that the case should be remanded. The parties dispute the nature of the remand.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges disability based on having bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and back pain. Tr. 206. At the time of the second hearing, he was forty-one years old. Tr. 189 (showing date of birth). He is a high school graduate, attended some college, and has past relevant work experience as a recycling laborer, pizzeria manager, and shipping supervisor. Tr. 207, 278, 290.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION

         A 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         In the 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. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         In step three, the Commissioner determines whether plaintiff's impairments, singly 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), 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.

         In step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, 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. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves that the ...


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