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Strong v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 27, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Merrill Schneider, SCHNEIDER KERR LAW OFFICES, Portland, OR. Attorney for Plaintiff

Adrian L. Brown, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, DISTRICT OF OREGON Portland, OR. Lars J. Nelson, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Seattle, WA. Attorneys for Defendant.


MARCO A. HERNANDEZ, District Judge.

Joshua Davidwayne Strong brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). The Commissioner determined Plaintiff was not disabled and denied his application for child insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSIB") under Titles II and XVI of the Act, respectively. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff was born on April 9, 1990. Tr. 128. He protectively filed for child insurance benefits on March 26, 2009, and for SSIB on March 27, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of April 9, 1990. Tr. 84, 85, 128. Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on August 11, 2009, and upon reconsideration on May 6, 2010. Tr. 94-101, 104-08. A hearing was held on April 6, 2011, in Portland, Oregon, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John Bauer. Tr. 62. On April 11, 2011, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 27. Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council issued an order denying Plaintiff's request for review on September 13, 2012. Tr. 1-3, 14. This appeal followed.


The parties are familiar with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. Therefore, the evidence will not be repeated except as necessary to explain my decision.


A claimant is disabled if he 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). Child insurance benefits are available to children of people who are deceased or who are drawing Social Security disability or retirement benefits if the child became disabled before age 22. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin. , 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id . In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). In step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140-41; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled. In step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141. In step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairments, has the residual functional capacity to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141-42; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.


At step one of the sequential proceedings, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 9, 1990, Plaintiff's alleged onset date. Tr. 20, Finding 2. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had "the following severe impairments: learning disorder NOS and asthma[.]" Id., Finding 3. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment pursuant to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 22, Finding 4. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had "the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c); however, he should avoid exposure to excessive fumes, dusts and gases, and he should be limited to entry level jobs requiring no more than the performance of simple, routine tasks." Tr. 23, Finding 5. At step five, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled because he was "capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy[, ]" including the representative occupations of merchandise marker, courier, and hand packager as set forth under the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Tr. 26-27, Findings 10-11.


A court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen , 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted). The record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, must be considered and weighed. See Howard v. Heckler , 782 F.2d 1484, 1487 (9th Cir. 1986). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue , 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard , 782 F.2d at 1486. To meet this burden, the claimant must ...

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