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Clark v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

September 4, 2014

SEAN B. CLARK, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sean B. Clark seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). This court has jurisdiction to review the Acting Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After reviewing the record, this court concludes that the Acting Commissioner's decision must be AFFIRMED.


To establish eligibility for benefits, a plaintiff has the burden of proving an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity "by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four to establish his or her disability.

At the fifth step, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that jobs exist in a significant number in the national economy that the claimant can perform given his or her residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Gomez v. Chater, 74 F.3d 967, 970 (9th Cir. 1996). If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is considered disabled for purposes of awarding benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f)(1), 416.920(a). On the other hand, if the Commissioner can meet its burden, the claimant is deemed to be not disabled for purposes of determining benefits eligibility. Id

The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is based on the proper legal standards and its findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

When reviewing the decision, the court must weigh all of the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. The Commissioner, not the reviewing court, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and the Commissioner's decision must be upheld in instances where the evidence supports either outcome. Reddick v. Chafer, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998). If, however, the Commissioner did not apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and making the decision, the decision must be set aside. Id. at 720.


Plaintiff was born in 1973 and was twenty-nine years old at the time of his alleged disability onset date. He protectively filed his application for benefits on September 28, 2009, alleging an onset date of June 1, 2002 based on a number of alleged impairments, including: disorders of the thoracic spine, chronic synovitis of the right ankle, fibromyalgia, a major depressive disorder, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His date last insured was December 31, 2007. Plaintiffs application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on November 7, 2011. The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and from an impartial vocational expert (VE). The ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following impairements, which when considered in combination, are severe: early degenerative disc disease of the thoracolumbar spine, a major depression disorder, and prescription drug dependence, by history. Tr. 62, Finding 3.[1] The ALJ determined that plaintiff's severe impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 63, Finding 4. The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). In particular, the ALJ found the plaintiff could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pound frequently, could stand/walk and/or sit for six hours each in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks, could only perform occasional stooping, and could only carry-out simple, routine tasks. Tr. 65, Finding 5.

Based on plaintiffs RFC and testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 67, Finding 6. However, the ALJ did determine that plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy in accordance with Medical Vocational Guidelines, 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. Therefore, on January 24, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for administrative review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Acting Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action seeking judicial review.


Plaintiff contends that this court must reverse and remand the Acting Commissioner's final decision based on a number of alleged errors. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinions of treating and examining physicians, improperly rejected plaintiffs subjective symptom testimony, misapplied the Medical Vocational Guidelines, and failed to give proper weight to plaintiffs Veterans Administration's (VA) service-connected disability rating. While plaintiffs counsel identifies each of these assignments of error, they are largely unsupported by any argument such that they can be said to have been fairly raised. In large part, counsel merely quotes from the ...

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