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Clute v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 17, 2014

DONALD CLUTE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Donald Clute brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). This Court is asked to consider (1) whether the ALJ properly evaluated the testimony of plaintiff and lay witness, Janine Clute, and (2) whether the ALJ relied on erroneous Vocational Expert (VE) testimony. Because the ALJ properly considered the relevant testimony and properly relied on VE testimony, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Clute applied for SSI on December 21, 2004, alleging disability beginning March 7, 2004. Tr. 70, 74, 690. This claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and appeared before the Honorable Marilyn S. Mauer on June 25, 2007. Tr. 667-86. ALJ Mauer denied plaintiff's claim by written decision dated August 23, 2007. Tr. 779-88. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which was subsequently denied. Tr. 5-7. Plaintiff appealed the matter to this Court, and on March 17, 2009, this Court remanded the matter for further proceedings. Tr. 698-99 ( Clute v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., Case No. 07-1594-HO (D. Or. Mar. 17, 2009)). Pursuant to this initial remand, the ALJ was instructed to "analyze plaintiff's assertion of limitations in dealing with people." Tr. 699.

Plaintiff appeared a second time before ALJ Mauer on December 8, 2009. Tr. 1122-29. ALJ Mauer denied plaintiff's claim by written decision dated December 23, 2009. Tr. 707-715. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which was subsequently denied. Plaintiff appealed the matter to this Court, and on April 27, 2011, this Court remanded the matter for further proceedings. Clute v. Astrue, No. CV 10-6050-MO, 2011 WL 1626541, at *8 (D. Or. Apr. 28, 2011). Pursuant to this second remand, the ALJ was instructed to "address Mr. Clute's allegation of migraine headaches, the relevant medical record, and Mr. and Mrs. Clute's associated testimony."[1] Id.

Plaintiff appeared before ALJ John Madden on May 3, 2012. Tr. 1130-52. ALJ Madden denied plaintiff's claim by written decision dated August 3, 2012. Tr. 690-96. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which was subsequently denied, thus rendering the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.

Plaintiff, born on February 15, 1950, was 54 years old when he filed his application for SSI and 59 years old at his date last insured, December 31, 2009. Tr. 65. Plaintiff alleges disability based on a combination of impairments, including: "difficulty being around people; ability to lift 5-10 pounds; chronic lower back pain and inability to bend over; bilateral knee pain; memory deficiency; easily irritable; post-traumatic stress disorder; colitis; severe migraines that occur 2-3 times per month and last for 1-2 days on average; need to lay down when he experiences the headaches; tinnitus; suicidal thoughts; depression; auditory hallucinations; inability to sit or stand for more than 20-30 minutes at a time; frequent need to rest after alternating between sitting and standing; and status post left knee replacement." Pl.'s Br. 3, ECF No. 17.[2]

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Administration utilizes a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If a claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Id.

Plaintiff contends that: (1) the ALJ improperly rejected plaintiff's testimony; (2) the ALJ improperly rejected lay witness testimony; (3) the ALJ relied on erroneous VE testimony; and (4) the ALJ failed to evaluate plaintiff's change in age category. Pl.'s Br. 10-23, ECF No. 17.

I. Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly rejected his testimony related to his headaches. Pl.'s Br. 11-14, ECF No. 17. In response, defendant argues that substantial evidence supports the ...


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