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Connors v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 12, 2013

JANINE CONNORS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

TIM D. WILBORN, Las Vegas, Nevada, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon, L. JAMALA EDWARDS, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MALCOLM F. MARSH, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Janine Connors, brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons set forth below, I affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on November 15, 2004, alleging disability beginning December 1, 2002 caused by left shoulder injuries and learning disabilities. Tr. 65. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on December 14, 2006, at which plaintiff testified, but was not represented by counsel. In addition, vocational expert (VE) Nancy Bloom was present throughout the hearing and testified. Tr. 340-56.

On January 12, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's application. Tr. 14-23. The Appeals Council declined review, and plaintiff timely appealed. Tr. 5-8. On March 24, 2009, this court reversed the final decision of the Commissioner and remanded for further consideration. Tr. 396-98.

On remand, an ALJ conducted another hearing on April 5, 2011, at which plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel. Tr. 659-701. In addition, VE Gary Jesky was present throughout the hearing and testified. On April 20, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision again denying plaintiff's application for benefits. The Appeals Council again declined review, and plaintiff timely commenced the instant action. Tr. 357-60.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Born on November 2, 1968, plaintiff was 34 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 42 years old on the date of the remand hearing. Plaintiff has a high school diploma, but reported participating in special education throughout her schooling. Tr. 73. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a Freight Handler, Security Guard, Asphalt Truck Driver, Maid, Field Researcher/Surveyor, Cashier, and Gas Station Attendant. Tr. 393.

In addition to her testimony at both hearings, plaintiff submitted an Adult Function Report. Tr. 100-05. Plaintiff's husband, Wayne Connors, submitted a Third Party Function Report. Tr. 88-96. Carol Greenough, Ph.D., performed a Comprehensive Psychological Evaluation and submitted an opinion. Tr. 158-63. Paul A. Switlyk, M.D., additionally ascribed some functional limitations regarding plaintiff's left shoulder in the course of a "Closing Shoulder Exam." Tr. 180-81.

THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(1)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at Steps One through Four. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step Five to show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141-42; Tackett , 180 F.3d at 1098.

At Step One, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity between the alleged onset date, December 1, 2002, and her date last insured, March 31, 2008. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq.; Tr. 388.

At Step Two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's rheumatoid arthritis; degenerative disease of the left, non-dominant shoulder; and cognitive disorder (not otherwise specified) were severe impairments. See 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c); Tr. 388-89. In addition, the ALJ found plaintiff's depression, right shoulder pain, cardiomegaly, and obesity were nonsevere impairments, but nonetheless considered the combined effect of the severe and nonsevere impairments in addressing plaintiff's residual functional capacity. Tr. 388-89.

At Step Three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526; Tr. 389-90.

The ALJ found that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, except that plaintiff is further limited to lifting ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently with the non-dominant left arm; lifting 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently with the dominant right arm; no climbing ladders, scaffolds, or ropes; occasional crawling; unlimited reaching with the right arm, but only occasional reaching with the left arm in all directions; standing and walking a total of four hours in an eight-hour day; and performing simple, routine, unskilled work. Tr. 390-93.

At Step Four, the ALJ found that plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a Cashier, albeit with the number of cashier jobs available reduced by 75% to accommodate plaintiff's functional limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1565; Tr. 393-94.

In the alternative, at Step Five, the ALJ found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, including Small Products Assembler. See ...


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