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Stapleton v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 30, 2014

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

Lisa R. J. Porter, KP Law P.C., Lake Oswego, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, Adrian L. Brown, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon, Carol A. Hoch, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Jeffrey R. McClain, Richard Rodriguez, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant.


ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.

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


On December 1, 2009, plaintiff applied for SSI. Tr. 18, 196-202. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 117-29. On August 3, 2011, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did Dolene Tharp-Britt, a third-party witness. Tr. 62-114. That same day, the ALJ ordered two consultive examinations due to the lack of relevant medical evidence concerning plaintiff's functional limitations.[1] Tr. 111. Accordingly, plaintiff underwent physical and mental evaluations by James Harris, M.D., and Gregory Cole, Ph.D., respectively, in January 2012. Tr. 601-25. On April 16, 2012, a second ALJ hearing was held, wherein plaintiff was again represented by counsel and testified, as did her boyfriend, Bow Quinton Tucker, and a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 33-61. On May 21, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 18-27. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.


Born on June 30, 1979, plaintiff was 30 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 32 years old at the time of the second hearing. Tr. 26, 196. Plaintiff did not graduate from high school, although she later obtained a GED and certification in veterinary assistance. Tr. 26, 217. She was previously employed as a fast food worker, cashier, cleaner, flagger, and veterinary assistant. Tr. 54-55, 218. Plaintiff alleges disability as of September 3, 2009, due to "HIV, fibromyalgia, pain, [and] asthma." Tr. 216.


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)(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)(1)(A).

The Commissioner 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 determines 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 evaluates 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, she is not disabled.

At step three, the Commissioner considers 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.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 resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). 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 demonstrate 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.F.R. § 416.920(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 that plaintiff had "not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2009, the application date." Tr. 20. At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "methamphetamine dependence in early remission, cannabis dependence in early remission, prescriptive opiate abuse in remission, anxiety disorder, major depression, pain disorder associated with a psychological factor and general medical condition, HIV (asymptomatic) and fibromyalgia." Id . At step ...

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