United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
D. CLARKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Shannan C, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administrations denying
her applications for disability insurance benefits
("DIB") under Title II and for supplemental
security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act ("the Act"). Full consent to
magistrate jurisdiction was entered on October 18, 2019
(#16). For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision
is REVERSED and REMANDED for immediate payment of benefits.
November 15, 1979, Plaintiff was thirty-four years old on the
alleged onset date. Tr. 24. She completed two years of
college coursework. Tr. 344. She served active duty in the
U.S. Navy from August 1997 until discharged under honorable
conditions in December 1998 for "personality
disorder." Tr. 321, 471. She has past relevant work
experience as a pizza baker, pizza deliverer, and automobile
salesperson. Tr. 24.
September 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income, alleging disability beginning February 9, 2014. Tr.
258-72. The agency denied the claims both initially and upon
reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Tr.
159-63, 165-81. She appeared pro se for a hearing before ALJ
John Sullivan in March 2017, at which time she voluntarily
continued the hearing to obtain a representative. Tr. 87-94,
217. She appeared with a representative for a hearing before
ALJ Ted Neiswanger in October 2017. Tr. 38-86. On November 9,
2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiffs claims for
benefits. Tr. 10-32. Plaintiff requested review of the
hearing decision, which the Appeals Council denied in
February 2018. Tr. 253-54, 1-6. Accordingly, the ALJ decision
became the final decision of the agency from which Plaintiff
claimant is disabled if he or 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
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.
a. 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 her
past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1560(c), 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such
work, he or she is disabled. Id.
See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954
(9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 953; see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999); Yuckert, 482 U.S.
at 140-41. The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step
five. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100. At step five, the
Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy, "taking into consideration the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
experience." Id; see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1566, 416.966 (describing "work which
exists in the national economy"). If the Commissioner
fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If,
however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to
perform other work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, the claimant is not disabled.
Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54; Tackett,
180 F.3d at 1099.
the five-step analysis, the ALJ made the following findings:
1. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 30, 2015. Tr. 15.
2. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 9, 2014, the alleged onset date. Tr. 15.
3. Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder.
4. Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments. Tr. 16.
5. Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at
all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional
limitations. She is limited to simple, routine work tasks
involving no interaction with the public and minimal
superficial interaction with coworkers. She must work mostly
independently and cannot have work-related interactions with
coworkers. She is limited to low stress work, which is
further defined as no persuasive communication tasks, no
teamwork tasks, no fast-paced production pace work, and few
changes in work routine or setting. Tr. 18.
6. Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work as a
pizza baker, pizza deliverer, or a salesperson (automobiles).
10. Considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there are jobs that . exist in significant numbers
in the national economy that the claimant can perform,
including cleaner II (transportation vehicles), laundry
sorter, and inspector hand packager. Tr. 24-25.
the ALJ concluded Plaintiff is not disabled as defined by the
Act. Tr. 25.
reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it is based on the proper legal standards and the legal
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); 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,' or
more clearly stated, 'such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion."' Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995)). In reviewing the Commissioner's alleged errors,
this Court must weigh "both the evidence that supports
and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions."
Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir.
1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is
rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one
rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion
must be upheld. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1198 (citing
Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1041). "However, a
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific
quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins v.
Soc. Sec. Admin.,466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)
(quoting Hammock, 879 F.2d at 501). Additionally, a
reviewing court "cannot affirm the [Commissioner's]
decision on a ground that the [Administration] did not invoke
in making its decision." Stout v. Comm'r Soc.
Sec. Admin.,454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir, 2006)
(citations omitted). Under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), the reviewing court has ...