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Welch v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 30, 2014

ANDREW S. WELCH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Andrew Welch seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Mr. Welch's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and found him ineligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. Petitioner claims the ALJ erred by not properly providing specific and legitimate reasons for discounting the treating physician's opinion, and did not reasonably evaluate the opinions of an additional examining physician and reviewing physician. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I find that the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision is supported by substantial evidence and was properly evaluated; therefore, this Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.

II. Background

Mr. Welch claims that he has been disabled since June 30, 2008, when rheumatoid arthritis began to limit his ability to work. Tr. 14.[1] Mr. Welch alleges that his pain can be so extreme that he is unable to leave the house, go shopping, or spend any significant time on the computer. Tr. 55-56. The rheumatoid arthritis manifests itself throughout his body; from his shoulder, knuckles, wrists, and elbows. Tr. 44. Plaintiff first sought treatment for his condition in September 2008. Tr. 14. He filed his most recent application for SSI on July 3, 2009 and for DIB on July 6, 2009. The applications were denied both initially and on reconsideration.

An ALJ held a hearing on January 31, 2012. At the hearing, Mr. Welch was represented by counsel. Mr. Welch and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing.

III. Discussion

The Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. In Step One, the claimant is not considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. See Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). The ALJ found that Mr. Welch has not been engaged in a substantial gainful activity since June 30, 2001. Tr. 13. This is not in dispute.

In Step Two, the claimant is not considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant has no "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). The ALJ found that Mr. Welch's rheumatoid arthritis is a severe impairment. Tr. 13. This is not in dispute.

In Step Three, the claimant is considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments meet or equal "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; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). The criteria for the listed impairments, known as Listings, are enumerated in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (Listing of Impairments). The ALJ's finding that Mr. Welch's rheumatoid arthritis does not meet or is not medically equivalent to any of the impairments on the Listings is undisputed.

If the Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained, work-related activities the claimant can still do on a regular and continuing basis despite his limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a); see also SSAR 96-8, 61 Fed.Reg. 128 (July 2, 1996). In Step Four, the claimant is not considered disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's RFC enables him to perform work he has done in the past. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that Mr. Welch is not capable of performing past relevant work. This is not disputed.

If the Commissioner reaches Step Five, she must determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work that exists in the national economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e), (f). Here the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can do. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5; see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a VE or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines set forth in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2. If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). After careful consideration of the entire record, which included the testimony of a VE, the ALJ found that Mr. Welch has the RFC to perform a limited range of light work, with a few limitations to the kind of work he can perform. Mr. Walsh contests this finding.

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). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Flaten v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's decision must be upheld, however, even if the "evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039-40.

Mr. Welch alleges that the ALJ erred by not properly providing specific and legitimate reasons for discounting the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. Han's, and did not reasonably evaluate the opinions of an examining physician, Dr. Brewster, and reviewing ...


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