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Robinson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 24, 2014

AMY M. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

PATRICIA SULLIVAN, Magistrate Judge.

Amy Robinson ("plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI social security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). All parties have consented to a Magistrate Judge in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case dismissed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 19, 2007, plaintiff filed her most recent applications for SSI and DIB, alleging a disability onset date of May 4, 2001.[1] Tr. 121-27, 482. After her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 74-83, 87-93. An administrative hearing was held on November 17, 2009, before ALJ Edward Hein. Tr. 33-69. On December 4, 2009, ALJ Hein issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 15-26. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a judicial complaint. Tr. 1-5. On April 6, 2012, pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the Honorable Michael Hogan entered judgment remanding the case for further administrative proceedings. Tr. 575-79. The Appeals Council issued a corresponding remand order on May 10, 2012. Tr. 584-86.

On April 25, 2013, a second administrative hearing was held before ALJ Sue Leise, at which plaintiff was represented by council and testified, as did a vocational expert. Tr. 505-54. On June 28, 2013, ALJ Leise issued another unfavorable decision. Tr. 482-98. Plaintiff subsequently "declined to file exceptions with the Appeals Council" and instead filed a complaint in this Court. Pl.'s Opening Br. 2.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Born on July 12, 1975, plaintiff was 25 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 37 years old on the date of the second hearing. Tr. 121, 125, 510, 496. Plaintiff graduated from high school. Tr. 42, 144, 496. She worked previously as a caregiver, security guard, kennel assistant, fastfood worker, and newspaper carrier. Tr. 158, 546-47. Plaintiff alleges disability beginning May 4, 2001, due to depression, anxiety, obesity, and pelvic, hip, and back pain. Tr. 139.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The 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. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1502, 416.920. First, the Commissioner considers whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. At step two, the Commissioner evaluates 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 the claimant does not have such an impairment, she is not disabled.

At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, 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 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant can perform her past work, she is not disabled; if a claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ ...


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