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Stiehl v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 24, 2014

SOREN A. STIEHL, Plaintiff,

Tim Wilborn, Wilborn Law Office, P.C., Las Vegas, Nevada, Attorney for plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon.

Lisa Goldoftas, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington Attorneys for defendant


ANN AIKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Soren Stiehl brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act") to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Cormnissioner of Social Security ("Cormnissioner"). The Cormnissioner denied plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Cormnissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.


On February 11, 2009, plaintiff applied for SSI. Tr. 119-21. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 65-68, 71-72. On June 23, 2011, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified. Tr. 23-46. Plaintiff's mother and a vocational expert ("VE") also testified. Id . On July 25, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 49-60. On December 7, 2012, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-3. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.


Born on May 23, 1967, plaintiff was 41 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 43 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 23, 119. Plaintiff graduated from high school. Tr. 27, 59. He worked previously as a cleaner, presorter and tally person; he also changed oil at a car service business. Tr. 31, 41-42, 166. Plaintiff alleges disability as of February 1, 2009, based on a combination of mental impairments, including anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), personality disorder and cognitive disorder. Pl.'s Opening Br. 2.


The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the 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) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B. , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). 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. See 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) (1) (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. § 416.920. First, the Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

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

At step three, the Commissioner resolves 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 141; 20 C.F.R. § 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 determines whether the claimant can perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). If the claimant can work, he is not disabled; if he cannot perform his past relevant work, the process moves to step five and 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 economy. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 142; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f), (g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.966.


At step one of the five step sequential evaluation process outlined above, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 54. At step two, the ALJ determined plaintiff had the following severe impairments: generalized anxiety disorder/PTSD, ...

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