United States District Court, D. Oregon
B. Mapes Attorney for Plaintiff
Gowie Assistant United States Attorney
F. Highland Social Security Administration Office of the
General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION & ORDER
Hernandez, United States District Judge.
R. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II and Supplemental Security
Insurance (“SSI”) under Title XIV of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”). The Commissioner agrees
the ALJ erred but the parties disagree as to whether the case
should be remanded for benefits. For the reasons discussed
below, the Commissioner’s decision is reversed and
remanded for the immediate payment of benefits.
filed an application for DIB on September 15, 2014, alleging
a disability onset date of February 10, 2014. Tr. 54, 221-29.
She applied for SSI on November 12, 2014. Tr. 54, 109. The
Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s applications initially
and upon reconsideration. Tr. 108-55. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Tr. 175-76. In a decision dated
July 31, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr.
54-64. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request
for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1–6; see
also 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a). Plaintiff seeks
judicial review of that decision. This Court has jurisdiction
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
December 1972, Plaintiff was 41 years old on the alleged
onset date. Tr. 54, 223, 273-86, 656-79. She alleged
disability due to headaches, widespread pain throughout her
body, degeneration in her cervical spine that caused pain to
radiate down her right arm, nausea, dizziness, double vision,
vertigo, and sound and light sensitivity that set off
increased headache pain. Id. She earned a nursing
degree and has past work experience as a nurse. Id.
claimant is disabled if 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); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (DIB), 416.920
(SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987).
Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(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). An
impairment or combination of impairments 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).
Unless expected to result in death, this impairment must have
lasted or 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. §§
404.1520(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 continues. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate
medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine
the claimant’s “residual functional
capacity” (“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 ...