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Inman v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 11, 2014

JASON D. INMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

Tim Wilborn, Wilborn Law Office, P.C., Las Vegas, NV, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, District of Oregon Adrian L. Brown, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, Lars J. Nelson, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

GARR M. KING, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jason D. Inman brings this action pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). I affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

BACKGROUND

Inman filed an application for DIB on May 21, 2009, alleging disability beginning January 4, 2009. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After a timely request for a hearing, Inman, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on October 5, 2011.

On October 31, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Inman was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and therefore not entitled to benefits. This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council declined to review the decision of the ALJ on November 30, 2012.

DISABILITY ANALYSIS

The Social Security Act (the "Act") provides for payment of disability insurance benefits to people who have contributed to the Social Security program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). In addition, under the Act, supplemental security income benefits may be available to individuals who are age 65 or over, blind, or disabled, but who do not have insured status under the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a).

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 cause death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if his physical or mental impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is eligible for either DIB or SSI due to disability. The evaluation is carried out by the ALJ. The claimant has the burden of proof on the first four steps. Parra v. Astrue , 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. First, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). If the claimant is engaged in such activity, disability benefits are denied. Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. A severe impairment is one "which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities[.]" 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, disability benefits are denied.

If the impairment is severe, the ALJ proceeds to the third step to determine whether the impairment is equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d) and 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one that is presumed to be disabling, the ALJ proceeds to the fourth step to determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work which the claimant performed in the past. If the claimant is able to perform work she performed in the past, a finding of "not disabled" is made and disability benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f).

If the claimant is unable to perform work performed in the past, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step to determine if the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in light of his age, education, and work experience. The burden shifts to the Commissioner to show what gainful work activities are within the claimant's capabilities. Parra , 481 F.3d at 746. The claimant is entitled to disability benefits only if he is not able to perform other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court must affirm a denial of benefits if the denial is supported by substantial evidence and is based on correct legal standards. Molina v. Astrue , 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion" and is more than a "mere scintilla" of the evidence but less than a preponderance. Id . (internal quotation omitted). The court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they "are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record[, ]" even if the evidence is susceptible to multiple rational interpretations. Id.

THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ found Inman had the following severe impairments: status post right ankle fracture with open reduction, internal fixation surgery in January 2009; status post perforated colon with colostomy in July 2005; hypertension; morbid obesity; and adjustment disorder with symptoms of anxiety. The ALJ found that these impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ crafted a residual functional capacity ("RFC") for Inman limiting him to sedentary or light work, with the exception of lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can also stand and walk for a total of two hours in an eight-hour workday, but can be on his feet either walking or standing for no more than 15 minutes at a time. He is able to sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. He should no more than occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He may need to use a cane. He can understand and remember simple, routine tasks but should not have to understand and remember detail-oriented tasks. He is capable of sustaining concentration and persistence with simple, routine tasks but should not be placed in a situation requiring sustained concentration and persistence for detail-oriented tasks.

Given this RFC, the ALJ concluded Inman cannot perform his past relevant work, but can perform work as a charge account clerk, a telephone ...


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