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Larkins v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 24, 2014

DESRA R. LARKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

JAMES W. MOLLER, Portland, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, RONALD K. SILVER Assistant United States Attorney Portland, OR. DAVID MORADO, Regional Chief Counsel, JEFFREY E. STAPLES, 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 Desra R. Larkins 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) under Title II 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 for DIB on September 30, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of January 3, 2008. Tr. 94, 131.[1] The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 94, 95. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on August 5, 2010. Tr. 5-8. A hearing was held before ALJ James Yellowtail on February 17, 2012. Tr. 45-93. At the hearing the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and from vocational expert (17E) Mark McGowan. Tr. 45-93. In a decision dated March 28, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff is not disabled. Tr. 9-38. The Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for review on July 17, 2013, at which time the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-4. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review in this Court.

BACKGROUND

Born in January 1969, Plaintiff was 43 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 53, 177. She speaks English and completed the ninth grade. Tr. 175. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a home attendant, a cashier, a cannery worker, a dishwasher, and a cleaner. Tr. 76-77, 170. She alleges disability due to back and neck surgeries, spondylosis, disc herniation, left-shoulder and neck sprain, myelomalacia, and myelopathy. Tr. 169.

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 AUJ 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. Cornm'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)(1). See also Keyser v. Comer 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). 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). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, known as ...


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