United States District Court, D. Oregon
Philip W. Studenberg, Attorney at Law, P.C., Klamath Falls, OR, of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, and Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon, Portland, OR; Lisa Goldoftas, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. SIMON, District Judge.
Rhonda Schopp ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for disabled widow's benefits ("DIB") under Title II and for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quoting Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039).
Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a rational reading of the record, and this Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did not rely. Id .; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at 1226.
A. Plaintiff's Application
Plaintiff was born on February 18, 1958, and is 56 years old. AR 157. Plaintiff's husband passed away on April 1, 2007, and on May 31, 2007, Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits and disabled widow's benefits. Those applications were denied in 2008.
Plaintiff protectively filed additional applications for SSI and disabled widow's benefits on February 17, 2010, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2003. AR 11. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claims initially and upon reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. On January 12, 2012, the ALJ held a video hearing. The ALJ declined to reopen the previous adjudication of Plaintiff's earlier applications. The ALJ found, however, that there were changed circumstances rendering Plaintiff's applications ripe for adjudication without the presumption of continuing nondisability. Because of the prior adjudication, however, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's alleged disability from December 11, 2008 (the day after the previous ALJ decision). The ALJ then issued an unfavorable decision on March 27, 2012, finding Plaintiff not disabled since the alleged onset date. AR 24. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.
B. The Sequential Analysis
A claimant is disabled if he or she is 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). "Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (DIB), 416.920 (SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing "substantial gainful activity?" 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510, 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), ...