United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
F. BECKERMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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)).
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)).
was born in September 1966, making him forty-seven years old
on May 13, 2014, the day he filed his protective
application. (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.)
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.
THE SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS
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).
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).
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 ...