United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
TONIA P. Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
V. ACOSTA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tonia P. seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
applications for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental
security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403, and
1381-1383f. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g)and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons that
follow, the court recommends that the Commissioner's
decision be reversed and remanded for further administrative
and Factual Background
protectively filed her application for SSI on October 2,
2013, and her application for DIB benefits on October 31,
2013. In both applications, Plaintiff alleges disability
beginning October 1, 2011, due to high blood pressure,
vertigo, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. Tr. Soc. Sec.
Admin. R. ("Tr.") 205, ECF No. 13. Plaintiffs
claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an
administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ held a
hearing on August 24, 2016, at which Plaintiff appeared with
her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Vernon G.
Arne, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On October
18, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Plaintiff
submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council. The
Appeals Council determined that the evidence did not show a
reasonable probability of changing the result of the
ALJ's decision. Tr. 2. Therefore, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiffs request for review and the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for
purposes of review.
was 54 years old on the alleged onset of disability date and
was 59 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Tr.
20, 175. Plaintiff has a high school education and completed
one year of college. Tr. 42, 206. Plaintiff has worked as a
bartender, a cashier, and a travel agent for corporate
travel. Tr. 42-43, 195.
ALJ's Disability Analysis
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, 416.920. Each step is potentially
dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps
one through four. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995,
1010 (9th Cir. 2014). At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant can do other work
which exists in the national economy. Hill v.
Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).
determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements through December 31, 2016. At step one, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her alleged onset of disability. At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: bilateral hip degenerative joint disease; left
knee osteophyte; hearing loss; and vertigo. At step three,
the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments, or combination of
impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed
assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform light work, lifting and carrying
twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently with
standing, walking, and sitting about six hours of an
eight-hour workday, with normal breaks. [Plaintiff] is
limited to no more than occasional climbing of ramps or
stairs. She is limited to no climbing of ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. [Plaintiff] is limited to no more than occasional
balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. She
must avoid even moderate exposure to workplace hazards such
as hazardous machineiy, operational control of moving
machinery, and unprotected heights. She is to have no
exposure to more than a 'moderate' noise intensity
levels as described in the Selected Characteristics of
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is able to perform her
past relevant work as a travel clerk and a cashier-checker.
The ALJ did not make alternative step five findings.
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been
under a disability under the Social Security Act from October
1, 2011, through the date of the decision. Tr. 31.
appeal to this court, Plaintiff contends the ALJ committed
two errors: (1) in light of the evidence submitted to the
Appeals Council, the ALJ failed to include all appropriate
limitations in the RFC; and (2) the ALJ's step four
finding that she is able to perform her past relevant work is
not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner
argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by
substantial evidence and is free of legal error.
Alternatively, the Commissioner contends that even if the ALJ
erred, Plaintiff has not demonstrated harmful error.
district 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); Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871
F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017). "Substantial evidence is
more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it
is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion." Hill, 698
F.3d at 1159 (internal quotations omitted);
Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1009. The court must weigh all
the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the
Commissioner's decision. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at
675; Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1009. The
Commissioner's decision must be upheld, even if the
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation. Batson v. Commissioner Soc. Sec.
Admin.,359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If the
evidence supports the ...