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Bobby C. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 9, 2019

BOBBY C., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STACIE F. BECKERMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Bobby C. (“Plaintiff”) brings this appeal challenging the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“Commissioner”) denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates the review provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands this case for further proceedings.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court may set aside a denial of benefits only if the Commissioner's findings are “‘not supported by substantial evidence or [are] based on legal error.'” Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). Substantial evidence is defined as “‘more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Id. (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)).

         The district court “cannot affirm the Commissioner's decision ‘simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1201 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999)). Instead, the district court must consider the entire record, weighing the evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. Id. Where the record as a whole can support either a grant or a denial of Social Security benefits, the district court “‘may not substitute [its] judgment for the [Commissioner's].'” Bray, 554 F.3d at 1222 (quoting Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007)).

         BACKGROUND

         I. PLAINTIFF'S APPLICATION

         Plaintiff was born in September 1966, making him forty-seven years old on May 13, 2014, the day he filed his protective application.[2] (Tr. 15, 26.) Plaintiff has a “limited education” and no past relevant work experience. (Tr. 26, 39, 237.) In his SSI application, Plaintiff alleges disability due to an amputation below the right knee, a learning disorder, and anxiety. (Tr. 58, 76.)

         The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's SSI application initially and upon reconsideration, and on July 14, 2015, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 15.) Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) appeared and testified at an administrative hearing held on September 20, 2017. (Tr. 37-56.) On October 2, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's SSI application. (Tr. 15-27.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.

         II. THE SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS

         A claimant is considered 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). Those five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in any substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant can return to any past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 724-25. The claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001). If the claimant fails to meet the burden at any of those steps, the claimant is not disabled. Id.; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987).

         The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five of the sequential analysis, where the Commissioner must show 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.” Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100. If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954 (citations omitted).

         III.THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if Plaintiff is disabled. (Tr. 15-27.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 13, 2014, the day he filed his protective application. (Tr. 17.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “[B]elow the knee amputation right lower extremity, other arthropathies, borderline intellectual functioning (BIF), and affective disorder.” (Tr. 17.) At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or equals a listed impairment. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, subject to the following limitations: (1) Plaintiff can perform “simple, routine tasks with a SVP [of] 1-2, ” (2) Plaintiff can occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, climb ramps and stairs, and “reach overhead with [his] right upper extremity, ” (3) Plaintiff can stoop without limitation, (4) Plaintiff can never “push/pull with [his] right lower extremity, ” (5) Plaintiff can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, (6) Plaintiff needs to avoid exposure to workplace hazards, (7) Plaintiff can “push/pull frequently with [his] right upper extremity, ” (8) Plaintiff can “sit for 6/8 hours” during an eight-hour workday, (9) Plaintiff can “stand/walk for 4/8 hours” during an eight-hour workday, and (10) Plaintiff can “lift/carry 20 pounds ...


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