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Niktab v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 30, 2014

ABDOREZA E. NIKTAB, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Abdoreza Niktab 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.

STANDARDS

A claimant is considered "disabled" under the Social Security Act if: (I) 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)(1)(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(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 impairments 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)(1), 416.945(a)(1), 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. 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(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 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, 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 support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chafer, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

When reviewing the decision, the court must weigh all of the evidence, whether it support is or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. 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 support is 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.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was born on February 22, 1957 and worked as a manager of a lodging facility until February 5, 2011. Plaintiff protectively filed his application for DIB on February 22, 2011, alleging that he has been disabled since February 5, 2011. The claim was denied initially on May 13, 2011, and upon reconsideration on July 12, 2011. At plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on January 9, 2012. The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, as well as an independent vocational expert (VE).

On January 27, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. At step one of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in SGA since February 5, 2011, the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 16, Finding 1.[1] At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from the following medically determinable severe impairments: muscle disorders and back disorders. Tr. 16, Finding 3. After considering plaintiff's severe and non-severe impairments, 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. 17, Finding 4. After consulting the record, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has the RFC to perform the full range of light, semiskilled work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b), but such work could not require:

Lifting more than 7-10 pounds at a time, primarily with the right upper extremity (claimant is right handed), on more than a "less than occasional" basis;
Lifting and carrying lighter articles, primarily with the right upper extremity, weighing more than 7-10 pounds, on more than an "occasional" basis (which ...

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