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Leyba v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 19, 2013

CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

Richard F. McGinty, McGinty & Belcher, PC, Salem, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff

Adrian L. Brown, U.S. Attorney's Office District of Oregon, Portland, OR, John C. LaMont, Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel - Region X, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.


MARCO A. HERNANDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Rosemary Leyba brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. I have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). For the following reasons, I affirm the Commissioner's decision.


Plaintiff was born in 1957 (Tr. 96) and was 43 years old at the alleged onset of disability. She completed the seventh grade (Tr. 171) and reports past work as a housecleaner and a warehouse packer. Tr. 107. Plaintiff alleged disability since January 1, 2000 (Tr. 96) due to mental illness, hepatitis C, comprehension problem, chemical imbalance, and anxiety. Tr. 167.

The Commissioner denied her application initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 61-62), and an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on February 22, 2011. Tr. 27. The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled on March 9, 2011. Tr. 8. The Appeals Council declined review of the matter on October 5, 2012, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3.


A claimant is disabled if 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).

Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r , 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). 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; 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; 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 impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, 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; 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.


The ALJ found Plaintiff's depressive disorder NOS, PTSD, personality disorder NOS with borderline traits, borderline intellectual functioning, and history of polysubstance abuse "severe" at step two in the sequential proceedings. Tr. 13. At step three, the ALJ found that the impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of any listed impairment. Tr. 14. The ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and concluded that she could perform "a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: she can perform simple, routine, unrushed tasks involving no more than occasional contact with the public and coworkers." Tr. 15. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Tr. 20. The ALJ found there were jobs existing in the national economy in sufficient numbers that Plaintiff could have performed. Tr. 20. The ALJ therefore found Plaintiff not disabled under the Commissioner's regulations. Tr. 21.


The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin. , 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin. , 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id.

This court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue , 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998)). The reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id . (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Edlund v. Massanari , 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a rational reading. Id .; see also Batson , 359 F.3d at 1193. However, this court cannot now rely upon reasoning the ALJ did not assert in affirming the ...

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