United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
E. Jones, United States District Judge.
(Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision by
the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying
his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
disability payments under Tile XVI of the Social Security Act
(the Act). This court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Because the Commissioner's decision is not
supported by substantial evidence, I reverse and remand for
an immediate calculation and award of benefits.
was born in 1989. He suffers from congenital hydrocephalus, a
rare condition "in which the primary characteristic is
excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain." Groom
v. Colvin, 222 F.Supp.3d 915, 918 n.1 (D. Or. 2016). To
prevent the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in his brain,
Plaintiff has had a shunt surgically installed in his skull
since he was eight months old. Tr. 432. The shunt tubing
drains fluid into Plaintiffs abdominal cavity. Tr. 646.
suffers from chronic headaches associated with hydrocephalus.
Plaintiff stated that he has three to four
"pressure" headaches per week, varying in severity.
Tr. 60, Tr. 976, The headaches last from one hour to five or
six hours, often accompanied by nausea, fatigue, and
irritability. Tr, 60, 62, 71. Plaintiff has undergone nine
surgical revisions to correct problems with the shunt. Tr.
Silvey, Ed. D., director of the Child Development Clinic
Program at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU),
examined Plaintiff when he was about eleven years old. Dr.
Silvey reported that Plaintiff, like others with
hydrocephalus "[characteristically . . . display
significant difficulty with executive function." Tr. 901
(executive function defined as "the ability to initiate,
shift, inhibit, and sustain, to plan, organize, and develop
strategies or plans"). Dr. Silvey reported that
Plaintiff had "significant difficulty" with memory,
including being confused by directions comprising three steps
or more; appearing to be disorganized, confused, or absent
minded; and had difficulty completing tasks because of an
inability to follow instructions. Tr. 901. Dr. Silvey
reported that persons with hydrocephalus "can be viewed
by others as being passive aggressive or intentionally
noncompliant, when in actuality they are having difficulty
with generalized organization." Tr. 901. The extensive
medical record shows that Plaintiff has continued exhibit
these psychological traits throughout the relevant time.
suffers from social anxiety, which is treated with Zoloft.
Tr. 62-63. He also suffers from attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has been treated with
either Adderall or a form of Adderall since Plaintiff was in
the second grade. Tr. 63, 360.
2014, Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging disability
beginning in 2001. After the agency denied Plaintiffs claim,
Plaintiff received a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) in July 2016 and a supplemental hearing in
December 2016. Tr. 22. In March 2017, the ALJ issued her
decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 22-32. After
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review,
Plaintiff timely filed this action seeking judicial review of
the denial of benefits.
reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it is based on proper legal standards and supported by
substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007).
This court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts
from the ALJ's conclusion and '"may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.'" Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d
995, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)). When the
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's
decision if it is "supported by inferences reasonably
drawn from the record." Tommasetti v. Astrue,
533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir, 2008) (citation omitted). The
reviewing court may not affirm the Commissioner's
decision based on a ground that the agency did not invoke in
making its decision. Stout v. Comm 'r, 454 F.3d
1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006).
ALJ'S FINDINGS ON THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL INQUIRY
defines "disability" as the "inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or 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). To determine
whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ uses a five-step
sequential inquiry. See 20 C.F.R, §§
404.1520, 416.920; Loimsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d
1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006).
at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since 2014, the application
date. Tr. 24.
two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: "headaches, hydrocephalus, and mental
health conditions described as ADHD and anxiety
disorder/' Tr. 24.
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a
listed impairment. Tr. 24. The ALJ then assessed Plaintiffs
residual functional capacity (RFC), finding that Plaintiff
could perform medium work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §
404.967(c), "except frequent climbing of ramps and
stairs, climbing of ladders, ropes and scaffolds, kneeling,
and crouching; no exposure to hazards such as moving
mechanical parts, unprotected heights; noise level would be
at most moderate; he is limited to performing simple and
routine tasks; limited to simple work related decisions;
limited to occasional interaction with coworkers, and no
interaction with the public." Tr. 26.
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Tr.
five, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show
that the claimant can perform other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, considering the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.
Bustamonte v. Massanari, 262 F, 3d 949, 953-54 (9th
Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100
(9th Cir. 1999). Here, based on the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy, including the
representative occupations of office cleaner, electronics
worker, and hand packager/inspector. Tr. 32. The ALJ
therefore found Plaintiff had not been disabled since April
2014, when he applied for SSI.
argues that the ALJ erred in (1) finding that Plaintiffs
testimony was not fully credible; (2) not giving proper
weight to the medical opinion evidence; (3) improperly
assessing lay witness evidence; and (4) failing to
incorporate all of the medical findings in Plaintiffs RFC.
ALJ's Assessment of Plaintiff's Testimony
found that Plaintiffs "medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms; however, [Plaintiffs] statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms
are not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record." Tr. 27. Because the
record here contains no affirmative evidence of malingering,
"the ALJ can reject the claimant's testimony about
the severity of.., symptoms only by offering specific, clear
and convincing reasons for doing so." Smolen v.
Chater,80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation
omitted). '"The clear and convincing standard is ...