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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 1, 2014

CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

Merrill Schneider, Schneider Kerr & Gibney Law Offices, Portland, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff

Adrian L. Brown, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon Portland, OR,

Kathryn Ann Miller, Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.


MARCO A. HERNNDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jerry Johnson brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. I have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). For the following reasons, I affirm the Commissioner's decision.


Plaintiff was born in 1970 and was 37 years old at the alleged onset of disability on September 30, 2007. Tr. 120. He completed high school, Tr. 131, and reports past work as a security guard, merchant marine, janitor, labor helper, fire truck cleaner, and deck hand, Tr. 133. Plaintiff alleged disability due to PTSD, anxiety, depression, a gunshot wound to the neck, back problems, memory problems, and seeing people (including his parents) die during Hurricane Katrina. Tr. 125.

The Commissioner denied his application initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 33-34. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on June 22, 2011 and a supplemental hearing on November 11, 2011. Tr. 495, 522. The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled on January 31, 2012. Tr. 16. The Appeals Council declined review of the matter on May 7, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 6-9.


A claimant is disabled if unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which...has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r , 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). In 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(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

In step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "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. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141.

In step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can return to past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert , 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.


The ALJ found Plaintiff's PTSD and depression NOS "severe" at step two in the sequential proceedings. Tr. 21. At step three, the ALJ found that the impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of any listed impairment. Tr. 22-23. The ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and concluded that he could perform "work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations...remember, understand and carry out simple and detailed but not complex instructions or tasks typical of occupations with a SVP of one or two...not have any contact with the public...[but can] work in proximity with coworkers...[can] not engage in work requiring teamwork...[but can] respond appropriately to supervision." Tr. 23. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a security guard, seaman, or janitor. Tr. 27; 554-56. The ALJ found there were jobs existing in the national economy in sufficient numbers that Plaintiff could have performed, such as kitchen helper/dishwasher. Tr. 27-28. The ALJ therefore found Plaintiff not disabled under the Commissioner's regulations. Tr. 28.


The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards; and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin. , 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin. , 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 ...

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