United States District Court, D. Oregon
JUDITH R. COLLUM, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Richard F. McGinty, McGinty & Belcher, Attorneys, Salem, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.
S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, Oregon, Jeffrey E. Staples, Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Judith Collum 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 II Widow's Insurance Benefits under the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.
On June 16, 2009, plaintiff applied for Widow's Insurance Benefits. Tr. 140-48. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 79-88. On September 27, 2011, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff appeared with a non-attorney representative and testified. Tr. 39-76. A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. Id . On February 24, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 20-33. On June 13, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-3. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Born on March 24, 1959, plaintiff was 49 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 52 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 23, 47. Plaintiff graduated from high school. Tr. 49, 162. She worked previously as a cashier, produce clerk and restaurant hostess. Tr. 158, 167. Plaintiff's husband died on January 22, 2008. Tr. 142; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.335 (claimant applying for Widow's Insurance Benefits must, in relevant part, be the widow of a deceased worker, age 50 or older and disabled). Plaintiff alleges disability as of July 1, 2008, based on post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), osteoarthritis, spondylosis, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. Tr. 157.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION
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. § 404.1520. First, the Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (a) (4) (i). 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. § 404.1520(a) (4) (ii). If the claimant ...