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Webber v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 11, 2014

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


ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Thadeous Webber seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for child's insurance benefits and supplemental security income (SSI) under Tiles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. 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.


A claimant is considered "disabled" under the Social Security Act if: (1) he or she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) "by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, " and (2) the impairment is "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." Hill v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 1144, 1149-50 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999)); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(l)(A).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for detennining if a person is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). In steps one through four, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant (1) has not engaged in SGA since his or her alleged disability onset date; (2) suffers from severe physical or mental impairments; (3) has severe impairments that meet or medically equal any of the listed impainnents that automatically qualify as disabilities under the Social Security Act; and (4) has a residual functional capacity (RFC) that prevents the claimant from performing his or her past relevant work. Id. An RFC is the most an individual can do in a work setting despite the total limiting effects of all his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(l), 416.945(a)(l), and Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps 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 RFC, age, education, and work experience. Gomez v. Chater, 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(f)(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 detennining 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, 180 F.3d at 1097; 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 suppmt 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 supp01ts or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. The Commissioner, not the reviewing comt, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and the Commissioner's decision must be upheld in instances where the evidence supports either outcome. Reddick v. Chater, 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 on August 21, 1987. He has completed highschool and has significant training as a glass blower. Plaintiff first applied for benefits on September 14, 2006. The claims were denied initially and plaintiff did not appeal. On April 23, 2009, plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI and an application for child's insurance benefits based on disability on his father's work record. On March 25, 2010, an application for child's insurance benefits based on disability on his mother's work record was joined to his claim. In all applications, plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of August 15, 2006. These claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration.

At plaintiffs request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on September 15, 2011. Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified, as well as plaintiffs aunt, foimer roommate, and an independent vocational expert (VE).

On October 14, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr. 63.[1] The ALJ found that the determinations on plaintiffs previous applications were final and binding; therefore, the ALJ dismissed plaintiffs request for a hearing as it related to the period of August 15, 2006 through June 19, 2008, on grounds of res judicata. Tr. 49. At step one of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset date. Tr. 52, Finding 2. At step two, the ALJ found that since the alleged onset date, plaintiff has suffered from the following medically determinable severe impairments: status post traumatic brain injury; status post bilateral shoulder dislocations/fractures; attention-deficit disorder; depressive disorder; history of childhood-onset conduct disorder; history of impulse control disorder; and a history of substance abuse in remission. Tr. 52, Finding 3. After considering plaintiffs severe and non-severe impahments, the ALJ determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 52-54, Finding 4.

Considering the record, the ALJ found that plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except: plaintiff is capable of carrying/lifting ten pounds in either hand, he can occasionally reach overhead with the right but not the left upper extremity, and he can have only brief, superficial contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the public. Also, plaintiff is capable of performing tasks learned in three months or less with simple work-related decisions and few workplace changes. Tr. 54. The ALJ found that, at all times relevant to this decision, the claimant has been unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 61-62. Based on plaintiffs age, the ALJ found that plaintiff was a younger individual on the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 62. Based on plaintiffs age, RFC, education, work experience, and testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is able to perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as ampoule sealer, final assembler, and lens gauger. Tr. 62-63. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled. Tr. 63.

The Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's decision. On February 22, 2013, the Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's findings, including the finding that plaintiff was not disabled. However, the Appeals Council disagreed with the ALJ's application of res judicata for the period from August 15, 2006 through June 19, 2008. Instead, the Appeals Council considered plaintiffs claim for that period on the merits ...

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