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Davis v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 11, 2014

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


PAUL PAPAK, Magistrate Judge.

Stephanie Davis ("plaintiff') seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). All parties have consented to a Magistrate Judge in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case dismissed.


On June 9, 2009, plaintiff protectively applied for DIB and SSI. Tr. 145, 148-57. After her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 85-98, 102-34. On May 24, 2011, an ALJ hearing was held, at which plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel; a vocational expert ("VE") also testified. Tr. 41-84. On November 18, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 23-34. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-4.


Born on February 27, 1969, plaintiff was 38 years old on the amended alleged onset date of disability[1] and 42 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 33, 49, 52, 148, 155, 176. Plaintiff completed the eleventh grade, as well as all of the classes required to obtain a GED except for those relating to math. Tr. 50-51, 976. She worked previously as a fabric cutter, stocker, cashier, housekeeper, janitor, and receptionist. Tr. 78-79, 177. Plaintiff alleges disability beginning April 16, 2007, due to "Degenerative Disk Disease, Bulging Discs, ADHD, Intermittent Explosive/Mood Disorder, [and an] Overactive Limbic System." Tr. 176.


The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence of record. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, 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 last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(l)(A).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1502, 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, she is not disabled.

At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.P.R.§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.P.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national and local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.P.R.§§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.P.R.§§ 404.1566, 416.966.


At step one of the sequential evaluation process outlined above, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date. Tr. 25. At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), mood disorder, personality disorder, pathological gambling in remission, substance abuse in remission, and degenerative disc disease. I d. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 26.

Because she did not establish disability at step three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiff's impairments affected her ability to work. The ALJ resolved that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work:

[s]he can lift and carry up to ten pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. She can stand and walk up to four hours in an eight-hour day and sit for up to six hours. She can frequently climb ramps or stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop and crouch. She is able to remember, understand and cany out simple to detailed, but not complex tasks or instructions consistent with a specific and vocational preparation (SVP) rating of 1 or 2. She cannot ...

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