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Valdez v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 16, 2014

RENEY VALDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

RORY JOSEPH LINERUD, Salem, Oregon. Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, ADRIAN L. BROWN, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon.

FRANCO L. BECIA, Assistant Regional Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MALCOLM F. MARSH, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Reney Valdez, brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental security income (SSI) disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons set forth below, I affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed the instant application for SSI on April 12, 2006, alleging disability due to depression, "nerve damage, " migraine headaches, asthma, bipolar disorder, and seizures. Tr. 132. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) presided over a hearing on May 20, 2008, at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified. Tr. 698-738. Vocational Expert (VE) Mark McGowan was also present throughout the hearing and testified. On September 4, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council declined review, and Plaintiff timely appealed to this Court.

On June 23, 2011, this Court issued an Opinion and Order upholding the ALJ's findings in large part, but reversing and remanding to the Commissioner for further clarification of the ALJ's findings regarding Plaintiff's social functioning limitations and the effect such limitations have on her ability to perform other work in the national economy. Valdez v. Astrue, No. 3:10-cv-00657-BR (#13), at 18-19.

Accordingly, on April 12, 2012, the ALJ held a hearing concerning the issues on remand at which Plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel. Tr. 667-97. Because the ALJ found a conflict in the medical record that required the consultation of a medical expert, no additional VE testimony was taken at this hearing.

The ALJ accordingly held an additional hearing to obtain the opinion of consulting medical expert, Dr. Arthur Lewy, on November 1, 2012, at which Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. Tr. 657-66. After the ALJ finished questioning Dr. Lewy, Plaintiff's counsel declined cross-examination. Tr. 664. When the ALJ asked Plaintiff if she had any statement to make in response to Dr. Lewy's comments, Plaintiff stated that she disagreed with Dr. Lewy's assessment that she did not give maximal effort in psychological testing and stated she intended to file a civil lawsuit against the ALJ. Tr. 664-66. The ALJ then adjourned the hearing without hearing additional VE testimony. Tr. 665-66. Therefore, the relevant VE testimony remains Mr. McGowan's from the hearing on May 20, 2008.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Born on June 16, 1970, Plaintiff was 26 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 42 years old on the date of the most recent hearing. Tr. 148. Plaintiff has a 9th grade education with no past relevant work. Tr. 137, 634. Plaintiff alleges her conditions became disabling on October 1, 1996. Tr. 148.[1]

THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a) (4) (i)-(v). Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at Steps One through Four. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step Five to show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141-42; Tackett , 180 F.3d at 1098.

At Step One, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date, April 12, 2006. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.971 et seq. ; Tr. 615.

At Step Two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's migraines, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, somatoform disorder, and opiate dependence are severe impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c); Tr. 615-23.

At Step Three, the ALJ determined Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. ...


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