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Ronda H. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 27, 2019

RONDA H.[1], Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Sherwood J. Reese and Drew L. Johnson, Drew L. Johnson, P.C., Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney’s Office, ; Michael S. Howard, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social Security Administration, . Of Attorneys for Defendant.


          Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge

         Ronda H. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff’s application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). After Plaintiff filed her opening brief (ECF 15), the Commissioner filed a response in which he conceded error by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and moved to remand the case for further administrative proceedings. ECF 19. Plaintiff replied, arguing that the case should instead be remanded for a finding of disability and the immediate payment of benefits. ECF 20. For the following reasons, the court remands for further administrative proceedings.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner’s decision if it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Bray v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039).

         Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner’s conclusion must be upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner’s interpretation is a rational reading of the record, and this Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Batson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193, 1196 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did not rely. Id.; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at 1226.


         A. Plaintiff’s Application

         Plaintiff protectively applied for both disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and SSI on May 31, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of December 31, 2010. AR 199, 200. Plaintiff was born on September 26, 1964; she was 46 on the alleged disability onset date and is now 55 years old. AR 199.

         Plaintiff’s date last insured is June 30, 2013; thus for purposes of her DIB application, Plaintiff must establish disability on or before that date. AR 200. For purposes of her SSI application, however, Plaintiff need not show disability on or before her date last insured. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s application initially and upon reconsideration. AR 113, 121. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 124. After a hearing, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff is not disabled. AR 12-25. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.

         B. The ALJ’s Decision

         The ALJ engaged in the appropriate sequential analysis in this case. First, he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2010, the alleged disability onset date. AR 17. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from polysubstance abuse in remission, major depressive disorder, and schizoaffective disorder, and found that these constituted severe impairments. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in the regulations. AR 17-18. The ALJ next assessed Plaintiff’s RFC. The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but that she could not tolerate exposure to hazards, such as machinery and unprotected heights. AR 20. The ALJ also found that due to pain, side effects of medications, and mental impairments, Plaintiff could understand, remember, and carry out only short and simple instructions; could only make simple work-related judgments and decisions; could have no more than occasional contact with the public; and could have no more than [in]frequent interactive contact with coworkers or supervisors. Id.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that considering Plaintiff’s RFC, she was able to perform past relevant work as a cleaner/housekeeper. AR 23. The ALJ also determined, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, that Plaintiff could ...

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