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Patrick R. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 18, 2019

SEAN PATRICK R.[1]Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Sean Patrick Reilly ("Plaintiff) brings this action under the Social Security Act ("SSA"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits ("SSDI"). (Tr. of Social Security Administrative R., ECF No. 13 ("Admin. R."), at 22.)[2]The Commissioner concedes reversible error and moves the court to remand for additional administrative proceedings. (Def. Br. and Mot. for Remand, ECF No. 16 ("Def. Br."), at 2.) Plaintiff opposes additional proceedings and urges the court to remand for a finding of disability and immediate award of benefits. (PI. Reply Br., ECF No. 17 ("PI. Reply"), at 2.)

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs request for remand for finding of disability and award of benefits should be granted. This case should be remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for immediate award of benefits.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff initially filed his claim for SSDI on November 15, 2013, which was denied, initially on April 9, 2014, and upon reconsideration on November 24, 2014. (Admin. R. at 22.) Following a written request filed on December 10, 2014, Plaintiff testified before Administrative Law Judge John Michaelsen ("ALJ") at a hearing held on August 18, 2016. (Id.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 11, 2014. (Id.) Plaintiff then appealed the decision to the Appeals Council, but the it denied Plaintiffs request for review on January 17, 2018, making the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1.)

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1978, and though Plaintiff dropped out of high school in his junior year, he received his GED prior to joining the Army and completed approximately two years of college following his honorable discharge. (Id. at 58, 451.) Prior to Plaintiffs alleged date of disability, January 11, 2011, Plaintiff worked as a window delivery helper from September of 2003 to December of 2004, as an order puller in a warehouse from February of 2004 to October of 2005, and as an enlisted member of the U.S. Army from January of 2006 through January of 2011. (Id. at 160.) During his deployments to Baghdad and Mosul, Plaintiff experienced three separate improvised explosive device ("IED") attacks as a result of which he incurred physical and psychological impairments. (Id. at 450-51.) Plaintiff suffered additional physical impairments related to his service in the Army. (Id. at 252-53.)

         In December of 2015, Jonathan Harrison, M.D., ("Dr. Harrison"), examined Plaintiff and diagnosed him with ulnar neuropathy status post transposition surgery, lumbar arthropathy, and left hip arthropathy. (Id. at 256.) In October of 2013, Camden Schobert, Staff Psychologist at Portland Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, ("Schobert"), diagnosed Plaintiff with post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and depression. (Id. at28, 263, 305.) Though Plaintiff testified his PTSD symptoms were present during and after his deployment, beginning as early as 2007, Plaintiffs earliest diagnosis of PTSD was in March of 2011. (Id. at 45, 260.) Plaintiff received treatment for his mental health through the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA"). (Id. at 258-448, 450, 464-513.) Though Plaintiffs treating psychiatrist, Clifford Lynam, M.D., ("Dr. Lynam"), opined that Plaintiff would miss two or more workdays from a simple, routine job due to his impairments, the ALJ disregarded only this part of Dr. Lynam's opinion because "Dr. Lynam's statement does not address the claimant's reports of benefit from his PTSD counseling group or his report of improved mood after starting Sertraline." (Id. at 32.)

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ follows a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled under the SSA. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four, but at step five the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner to identify jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform despite his or her residual functional capacity ("RFC"), age, education, and work experience. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

         At step one, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since Plaintiffs alleged onset date of January 11, 2011, through his date last insured of December 31, 2015. (Admin. R. 24.) At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1) anxiety, (2) PTSD, (3) depression, (4) obesity, and (5) left ulnar pain secondary to history of left ulnar nerve transposition procedure. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). (Id.) Between steps three and four, the ALJ rejected the VA's disability determination, partially rejected Dr. Lynman's opinion that Plaintiff would need "additional breaks [and would miss] two or more days of work per month[, ]" and found Plaintiff to have the following RFC:

[The] capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except the claimant is limited to no more than frequent stooping, climbing, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. He is limited to no more than occasional handling, fingering, or feeling with his left upper extremity. He would need to avoid exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, and similar hazards. He is limited to simple, repetitive, routine tasks requiring no contact with the public.

(Id. at 26, 32, 33.) At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant ...

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