United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
FRANK A. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.
Plaintiff Frank A. Robinson seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). This court has jurisdiction to review the Acting Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After reviewing the record, this court concludes that the Acting Commissioner's decision must be AFFIRMED.
To establish eligibility for benefits, a plaintiff has the burden of proving an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity "by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(l)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four to establish his or her disability.
At the fifth step, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that jobs exist in a significant number in the national economy that the claimant can perform given his or her residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Gomez v. Chafer, 74 F.3d 967, 970 (9th Cir. 1996). If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is considered disabled for purposes of awarding benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(£)(1), 416.920(a). On the other hand, if the Commissioner can meet its burden, the claimant is deemed to be not disabled for purposes of determining benefits eligibility. Id
The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is based on the proper legal standards and its findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).
When reviewing the decision, the court must weigh all of the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Tackett, 180 F.3d at I 098. The Commissioner, not the reviewing court, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and the Commissioner's decision must be upheld in instances where the evidence supports either outcome. Reddick v. Chafer, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998). If, however, the Commissioner did not apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and making the decision, the decision must be set aside. Id at 720.
Plaintiff was born in 1978 and was thirty years old at the time of his alleged disability onset date. He protectively filed his application for benefits on January 22, 2009, alleging an onset date of April 1, 2008 based on a number of physical impairments, including: degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, ankylosis of the third digit of the left hand, and tendonitis in his left foot. His date last insured was June 30, 2013. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on April 20, 2011. The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel. At this hearing, the ALJ determined that the administrative record was incomplete and a second hearing was held on June 30, 2011. At the second hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel; an impattial medical expert (ME); and an impartial vocational expert (VE). The ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: "mild degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine with T7-T8 herniation, mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, carpal tunnel syndrome of the left upper extremity, ankylosis of the third digit of the left hand, tendonitis of the left lower extremity, and headaches secondary to paranasal sinus disease." Tr. 23, Finding 3. The ALJ determined that plaintiff's severe impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 24, Finding 4. The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except that he requires a sit/stand option, cannot stoop, walk on uneven terrain, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, can only peform other postural activities occassionally, and can perform fine manipulation with his left hand no more than frequently. Tr. 24, Finding 5.
Based on plaintiff's RFC and testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work as a bank teller and casino cashier. Tr. 30, Finding 6. Therefore, on August 5, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for administrative review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action seeking judicial review.
Plaintiff contends that this court must reverse and remand the Acting Commissioner's final decision for an immediate award of benefits because the ALJ improperly rejected the opinions of treating physicians, improperly rejected plaintiff's testimony, and ...