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Griffith v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

March 30, 2014

SHELLY GRIFFITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

BRUCE W. BREWER Law Offices of Bruce W. Brewer, P.C. West Linn, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff

S. AMANDA MARSHALL United States Attorney District of Oregon, ADRIAN L. BROWN Assistant United States Attorney Portland, Oregon, JOHN C. LAMONT Office of General Counsel Social Security Administration Seattle, Washington, FRANCO L. BECIA Assistant Regional Counsel Social Security Administration Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant

OPINION & ORDER

MARCO A. HERNANDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Shelly Griffith brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision denying her application for Social Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Griffith was born on April 14, 1967. Tr. 39, 166, 229. She attended high school through the eleventh grade and later completed her GED. Tr. 39, 239. Ms. Griffith worked previously as a housekeeper and fast-food cashier, although she has been unemployed since 1990. Tr. 233-34, 242.

Ms. Griffith has applied for disability benefits several times, with her last denial occurring on March 5, 2009. Tr. 204, 229-30. On October 9, 2009, Ms. Griffith filed her most recent SSI application, alleging disability as of April 20, 2005, due to type-2 diabetes, hepatitis C, depression, neuropathy, sleep apnea, and lower back pain.[1] Tr. 28, 229, 233-34. After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Ms. Griffith requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 28, 76-89. On December 21, 2011, a hearing was held before ALJ Richard Say, at which Ms. Griffith testified and was represented by counsel; a vocational expert ("VE") also testified. Tr. 28, 50-70. On January 11, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Griffith not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 28-41. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, Ms. Griffith filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-4.

SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

The Commissioner engages in a sequential process encompassing between one and five steps in determining disability under the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The initial burden of establishing disability rests upon the claimant. Id .; Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5. If the sequential disability analysis reaches the fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that "the claimant can perform some other work that exists in the national economy, taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience." Tackett, 180 F.3d. at 1100.

At step one, the Commissioner determines if the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity. If she is, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, the Commissioner evaluates if the claimant has "a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that meets the twelve-month durational requirement. If the claimant does not have such a severe impairment, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.909, 416.920(a)(4)(ii).

At step three, the Commissioner resolves whether the severe impairment meets or equals a "listed" impairment in the regulations. If the impairment is determined to equal a listed impairment, the claimant is presumptively disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

At step four, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." If the claimant can perform such work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv); Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work existing in the national economy; if the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(f); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099. Conversely, if the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.

THE ALJ'S DECISION

At step one of the sequential analysis outlined above, the ALJ found that Ms. Griffith had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 9, 2009, the SSI application date. Tr. 30. At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Griffith had the following severe impairments: "depression, obesity, and diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy in her lower extremities consisting of tingling sensation." Id . At step three, the ALJ found that Ms. ...


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