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Seek v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 9, 2014

KAREN G. SEEK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

DREW L. JOHNSON, Drew L. Johnson, P.C., Eugene, OR, JOHN E. HAAPALA, JR., Eugene, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, DAVID MORADO, Regional Chief Counsel, NANCY A. MISHALAINE, Special Assistant United States Attorneys Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANNA J. BROWN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Karen G. Seek seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments under Title XVI.

This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Following a thorough review of the record, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision and DISMISSES this matter.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on October 22, 2009. Tr. 10. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on October 10, 2011. Tr. 10. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Tr. 10.

The ALJ issued a decision on January 26, 2012, in which he found Plaintiff is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 35. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on November 8, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1.

Plaintiff previously applied in July 2006 for Title II and Title XVI benefits, which were denied initially that month. Tr. 10. Plaintiff did not appeal these decisions. Tr. 10. The ALJ noted: "By alleging an onset date within the period previously adjudicated, the claimant has made an implied request to reopen those applications." Tr. 10. The ALJ, however, declined to reopen the prior unfavorable determinations because (1) Plaintiff's current Title XVI application was not filed until 2011, more than two years after her prior application was initially denied, and (2) because the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled at any point since the alleged onset date. Tr. 11.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on May 26, 1969, and was 42 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 243. Plaintiff completed two terms of community college. Tr. 74-75. Plaintiff has prior relevant work experience as a custodian, "cook/cashier, " and landscape worker. Tr. 262.

Plaintiff alleges disability since October 31, 2005, due to fibromyalgia, restless-leg syndrome, inability to hold things in her hand, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and sleep apnea. Tr. 67.

Except when noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. After carefully reviewing the medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. See Tr. 10-35.

STANDARDS

The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate her inability "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). The ALJ must develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011)(quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).

The district 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 as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Molina, 674 F.3d. at 1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more than a "mere scintilla" of evidence but less than a preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).

The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

DISABILITY ANALYSIS

I. The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation

The Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). See also Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive.

At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), ...


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