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Stockwell v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

November 11, 2014

BRUCE STOCKWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

Steven J. Munson, H. Peter Evans PC, Portland, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

Adrian L. Brown, Ronald K. Silver, U.S. Attorney's Office District of Oregon, Portland, OR, Jordan D. Goddard, Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

MARCO A. HERNNDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bruce Stockwell brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. I have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). For the following reasons, I affirm the Commissioner's decision.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born in 1957 and was 51 years old at the alleged onset of disability on January 1, 2009. Tr. 129. He completed the 11th grade, Tr. 138, and reports past work as a restaurant owner, Tr. 135. Plaintiff alleged disability due to arthritis and chronic pain. Tr. 134. The Commissioner denied his application initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 71-72. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on January 26, 2012. Tr. 36. The ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled on March 15, 2012. Tr. 18. The Appeals Council declined review of the matter on May 20, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3.

SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

A claimant is disabled if 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).

Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). In step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

In step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals "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; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

In step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can return to past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the spine, osteoarthritis of the feet, and "alcohol and cannabis abuse vs. dependence, claimed early, partial remission" severe at step two in the sequential proceedings. Tr. 23. At step three, the ALJ found that the impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of any listed impairment. Tr. 23-24. The ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and concluded that he could perform "medium work... [with] no more than occasional climbing;... avoid concentrated exposure to hazards in the workplace;... engage in no more than occasional public contact; and... engage in no frequent overhead work." Tr. 24. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a tavern manager. Tr. 27. The ALJ found there were jobs existing in the national economy in ...


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