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Tatom v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 17, 2014

VICTORIA A. TATOM, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MICHAEL HALLIDAY, Halliday Law, PC, Salem, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, RONALD K. SILVER, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, DAVID MORADO, Regional Chief Counsel, KATHY REIF, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANNA J. BROWN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Victoria A. Tatom seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).

For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner and DISMISSES this matter.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Plaintiff protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on July 10, 2009, alleging disability as of February 11, 2009. Tr. 156.[1] The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 79-83. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 84-87. A hearing was held on August 9, 2011. Tr. 34-58. Plaintiff was represented by attorney Michael Halliday at the hearing. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified. Tr. 34-58. In a decision dated August 26, 2011, the ALJ found Plaintiff is not disabled. Tr. 12-27. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d), that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on June 18, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for review. Tr. 1-4.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was 48 years old at the time the ALJ issued his decision. Tr. 165. Plaintiff speaks English, and she completed the 12th grade with special-education services. Tr. 162. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a certified nursing assistant and a technical social-activities worker for a retirement home. Tr. 157. She alleges disability due to degenerative disc disease, a bulging disc, and a torn disc. Tr. 156.

STANDARDS

The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden a claimant must demonstrate her inability "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). The ALJ must develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).

The district 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 as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Molina, 674 F.3d. at 1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).

The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

DISABILITY ANALYSIS

I. The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation

At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4) (I), 416.920(a) (4) (I). See also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).

At Step Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant does not have any medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (a) (4) (ii), 416. 920 (a) (4) (ii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

At Step Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4) (iii), 416.920(a) (4) (iii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, ...


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