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Ricketts v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 23, 2014

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

Tim Wilborn, Wilborn Law Office, P.C., Las Vegas, Nevada, Attorney for plaintiff.

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

Gerald J. Hill, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant


ANN AIKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robin Ricketts brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act") to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.


On November 2, 2009, plaintiff applied for DIB. Her application was denied initially on March 18, 2010, and upon reconsideration on June 30, 2010. Tr. 30, 98, 104. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 110. On December 14, 2011, an ALJ hearing was held before the Honorable Rudolph M. Murgo. Tr. 45. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified on her own behalf. Tr. 49. Margaret R. Moore, Ph.D., an impartial medical expert ("ME"), and Richard R. Keough, an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. Tr. 69, 79. On December 22, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 39. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review and plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.


Born on August 18, 1963, plaintiff was 44 years old on the alleged onset of disability and 48 at the time of the hearing. Tr. 35, 49. Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed the police academy. Tr. 51. From July 1989 through March 1996, plaintiff served as a corrections deputy in Multnomah County. Tr. 54. Thereafter, plaintiff worked as a peer jury coordinator. Tr. 55. More recently, plaintiff worked part-time for a private investigator and as a self-employed housekeeper. Tr. 53.

Plaintiff alleges that she became disabled on January 1, 2008 due to a combination of impairments including: shoulder pain, a bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, and a personality disorder. Tr. 34-35.


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 but less than a preponderance." Mayes v. Massanari , 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotations omitted). "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)). Even if the evidence is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, the Commissioner's reasonable interpretation must be upheld. Sample v. Schweiker , 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). 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 court "will not reverse an ALJ's decision for harmless error, which exists when it is clear from the record that the ALJ's error was inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination." Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 884 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin. , 454 F.3d 1050, 1055-56 (9th Cir. 2006)) (internal quotations omitted). The burden of showing that an error is harmful rests on the party challenging the ALJ's disability determination. Molina v. Astrue , 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012).

The burden of proof initially rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler , 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant 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).

Under the authority of the Act, the Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for a claimant's disability determination. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Bowen , 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.401(b); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (4) (i). If the claimant is engaged in a substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.

At step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Bowen , 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (4) (ii). Impairments "may be found not severe only if the evidence establishes a slight abnormality that has no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work." Webb v. Barnhart , 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005). If no severe impairment is determined, the claimant is not disabled.

At step three, the ALJ determines whether the impairment meets or equals "one of a number of listed impairments that... are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Bowen , 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (4) (iii). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Bowen , 482 U.S. at 141.

At step four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (4) (iv). If the claimant can engage in past relevant work, she is not disabled. If she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to demonstrate that other work exists in the national economy that the claimant can perform despite her impairment. If this ...

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