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Sanders v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 24, 2013

JULIE A. SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

KAREN STOLZBERG, Lake Oswego, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney District of Oregon, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon.

JEFFREY R. MCCLAIN, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

MARCO A. HERNANDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Julie A. Sanders brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") under Title II and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Sanders was born on March 8, 1975 and was 31 years old on the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 34. She is a high school graduate and attended two years of college. Tr. 208. Her past work includes employment at a call center and as a sales associate. Tr. 86, 226. Plaintiff last worked in December 2006. Tr. 204.

Ms. Sanders protectively filed an application for SSI in August 2009, alleging disability as of December 2006 due to bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, and disc disease. Tr. 176, 203-04. After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Ms. Sanders requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 125, 131-32. On August 17, 2011, a hearing was held before ALJ Riley J. Atkins, at which Ms. Sanders testified and was represented by counsel; vocational expert ("VE") Amberly Ruck also testified. On August 25, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Sanders not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 16-35. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, Ms. Sanders filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.

SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

The Commissioner engages in a sequential process encompassing between one and five steps in determining disability under the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The initial burden of establishing disability rests upon the claimant. Id .; Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 146 n.5. If the sequential disability analysis reaches the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that "the claimant can perform some other work that exists in the national economy, taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience." Tackett , 180 F.3d. at 1100.

At step one, the Commissioner determines if the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the Commissioner determines if the claimant has "a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that meets the twelve-month durational requirement. If the claimant does not have such a severe impairment, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).

At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the severe impairment meets or equals a "listed" impairment in the regulations. If the impairment is determined to equal a listed impairment, the claimant is presumptively disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." If the claimant can perform such work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv); Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work existing in the national economy; if the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(f); Tackett , 180 F.3d at 1099. Conversely, if the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); Tackett , 180 F.3d at 1099.

THE ALJ'S DECISION

At step one of the sequential evaluation process outlined above, the ALJ found that Ms. Sanders had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 21. At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Sanders had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), borderline personality traits, a history of substance abuse, left shoulder tendonitis, cervical degenerative disease, asthma, fibromyalgia, and a history of obesity. Id . At step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Sanders' impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet listings 12.04 or 12.09. Tr. 22.

At step four, the ALJ found that Ms. Sanders had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a ...


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