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Date: 05-15-2023

Case Style:

Justin G. v. Social Security Administration

Case Number: 6:21-cv-01449

Judge: Jeff Armistead

Court: United States District Court for the District of Oregon (Lane County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Renata Gowie and Heidi Triesch

Description: Portland, Oregon social security disability lawyer represented Plaintiff seeking review of the denial of his applicaiton for social security disability benefits.

Plaintiff applied for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on March 22, 2019, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2014. (Tr. 175.) His claim was initially denied on August 1, 2019, and again upon reconsideration on February 26, 2020. (Tr. 53, 63.) Afterwards, plaintiff filed for a hearing that was held before the ALJ on January 25, 2021. (Tr. 29.) At the hearing, plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to January 1, 2016. (Tr. 13.)

In denying plaintiff's applications for DIB, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process.[2] At step one, the ALJ determined plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date. (Tr. 15.) At step two, the ALJ determined that he had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 15.) At step three, the ALJ determined that his impairments singly or in combination did not meet or medically equal the severity of any listed impairment. (Tr. 16.)

As for the ALJ's assessment of plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following nonexertional limitations: understanding, remembering, and carrying out instructions is limited to performing simple and routine tasks, reasoning level 2 or less; use of judgment is limited to simple work-related decisions; occasional interactions with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public; changes in the workplace setting limited to simple work-related decisions; and normal breaks could accommodate for time off-task. (Tr. 17.)

At step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff can perform past relevant work as a laborer, general, and this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the plaintiff's RFC. (Tr. 22.) With the RFC in hand, the ALJ found at step five that plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a laborer. (Tr. 22). The ALJ also found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, including such representative occupations as hand packager, an automobile detailer, and electronics worker. (Tr. 23.)...

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Determining the credibility of a claimant's testimony regarding subjective reports of pain or symptoms requires the ALJ to undertake a two-step process of analysis. Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 678 (9th Cir. 2017). In the first stage, the claimant must produce objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms. Treichler v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1102 (9th Cir. 2014); Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008). At the second stage, if there is no affirmative evidence of malingering, the ALJ must provide specific, clear and convincing reasons for discounting the claimant's testimony. Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 488-89 (9th Cir. 2015); 20 C.F.R. § 416.929. The specific, clear and convincing standard is “the most demanding required in Social Security cases” and is “not an easy requirement to meet.” Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1015; Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 678-79 (9th Cir. 2017).

Plaintiff contends that he cannot engage in full time, competitive employment because of his mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder and anxiety. (Tr. 202.) In his view, anxiety and unpredictable mood swings caused by his bipolar disorder are exacerbated by stress and can change from moment to moment with little, if any, predictability. (Tr. 263, 277.) Plaintiff has a history of depression and suicidal thoughts, beginning with a hospitalization for attempted suicide in May of 2014. (Tr. 569.) That struggle with suicidal thoughts and depressive episodes, feelings of worthlessness, and his “intense” anxiety forced him to isolate from others. (Tr. 41, 44, 425-26.) Plaintiff was engaged in counseling after his suicide attempt but lack of


insurance and financial limitation caused him to stop. (Tr. 43, 424.) Plaintiff started taking Celexa but has since been moved to Abilify and lorazepam. (Tr. 404, 406, 400.)

At the hearing, plaintiff reported that he had been working part-time as a pizza delivery driver from 2016 to 2019, and then part-time at U-Haul. (Tr. 39.) Plaintiff explained that he was able to sustain this part-time work because his employers understood his mental health challenges and made accommodations specifically for him, including reducing his responsibilities so that he did not have to interact with people and giving him simpler, routine work. (Tr. 40.) On his bad days, plaintiff will miss work at least a couple times a month, and his supervisor will work around him. (Tr. 41.) During his bad days, plaintiff reports not being able to trust his own needs and his judgment around people, and he does what he can to minimize stressful situations, including isolation. (Tr. 41-42, 44.)

Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's assessment of his subjective symptom testimony. The ALJ discounted plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony because: (1) his level of activity was inconsistent with his allegations; (2) his conditions improved with treatment; and (3) his statements were inconsistent with his medical records.

Outcome: The Commissioner's final decision was reversed and remand for immediate award of benefits.

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