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Sklyarenko v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 23, 2014

ELENA SKLYARENKO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Alan R. Unkeles, Hillsboro, OR, John E. Haapala Jr., Eugene, OR, Attorneys for plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, District of Oregon, Adrian L. Brown, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon.

Diana Andsanger, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANN AIKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Elena Sklyarenko ("plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications for Title II disability insurance benefits (DIB)and Title XVI supplemental security income (SSI) disability benefits under the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, 1381-83f. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB and SSI benefits on September 26, 2008. Tr. 129-131, 132-138. She alleged an inability to work beginning April 28, 2006, tr. 129, 132, due to bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, arthritis, lumbago, shoulder rotator cuff syndrome, varicose veins, and knee problems. Tr. 84. Her applications were denied initially, tr. 72-84, and upon reconsideration. Tr. 90-97. On April 14, 2010, after a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that plaintiff was disabled between April 28, 2006 and April 27, 2009. Tr. 18-33. The Appeals Council, after considering additional records presented by plaintiff, found that the new evidence did not provide a basis for overturning the ALJ's decision, and therefore denied plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-3. The ALJ's decision thus became the final agency decision. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481, 422.210 (2005). Plaintiff then filed a complaint in this Court.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

Born in 1963, plaintiff was 43 years old at her alleged onset date and 47 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 46. Plaintiff has a high school degree. Tr. 47. Plaintiff has past work experience as a caretaker, janitor, electronics assembly worker, and housekeeper. Tr. 181.

After the ALJ's decision, on September 7, 2012, plaintiff submitted the following additional evidence to the Appeals Council for review: two representative briefs dated April 28, 2010 and August 27, 2012; a one-page letter from plaintiff's physical therapist, dated April 27, 2010; and a report from Dr. Oisin O'Neill M.D. dated May 13, 2010. Tr. 5, 219, 220-224, 488, 489-491.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This 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) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B. , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler , 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler , 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, plaintiff must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d) (1) (A).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1502, 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140; 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." Id .; 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 can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled. If she 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 this burden and proves that the ...


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