United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
F. BECKERMAN United States Magistrate Judge
H. (“Plaintiff”) brings this appeal challenging
the Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) denial of his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act. The Commissioner acknowledges
that the ALJ erred, and the only issue in dispute on appeal
is whether the Court should remand this case for further
administrative proceedings or an award of benefits. The Court
has jurisdiction to hear this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court
grants the Commissioner's motion to remand this case for
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 December 1958, making him fifty-six years old on
January 1, 2015, the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 17,
28, 63.) Plaintiff is a high school graduate and has past
relevant work experience as a deputy sheriff. (Tr. 27, 43,
50, 75, 217.) In his DIB application, Plaintiff alleges
disability based on a history of cervical spine fusion
surgeries and back pain. (Tr. 63, 78.)
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's DIB application initially
and upon reconsideration, and on September 10, 2015,
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 17.) Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (“VE”) appeared and testified
at a hearing held on March 28, 2017. (Tr. 41-62.) On June 26,
2017, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 17-29.) Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of the ALJ's 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).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine if Plaintiff is disabled. (Tr. 17-29.) At step one,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2015, the
alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 19.) At step two, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: “Obesity, degenerative disc disease of the
cervical spine with fusion, and diabetes mellitus[.]”
(Tr. 19.) At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did
not have an impairment that meets or equals a listed
impairment. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work, subject to these limitations: Plaintiff
can engage in no more than occasional climbing, crouching,
crawling, or overhead reaching. (Tr. 22.) At step four, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not ...