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Harms v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 11, 2014

JESSICA M. HARMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Kathryn Tassinari, Robert A. Baron, Harder, Wells, Baron & Manning, P.C., Eugene, OR, Attorneys for plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, Adrian L. Brown, Ronald K. Silver U.S. Attorney's Office, Portland, OR, Richard A. Morris, Courtney M. Garcia, Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Jessica Harms brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act") to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In November 2011, plaintiff protectively applied for SSI. Tr. 12, 194-97. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 12, 126-30, 134-36. On November 16, 2012, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 12, 79-102. On May 14, 2013, a supplemental hearing was held before a different ALJ, wherein plaintiff was again represented by counsel and testified, as did a VE and medical expert ("ME"). Tr. 24-78. On May 30, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 12-19. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Born on January 16, 1990, plaintiff was 17 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 23 years old at the time of the second hearing. Tr. 52, 97, 215. Plaintiff dropped out of high school during her senior year but later earned a GED. Tr. 581. She attended community college and a culinary arts school for a "short amount of time." Tr. 68, 581. She previously worked as a retail associate, cleaner, and telemarketer. Tr. 92, 236, 581. Plaintiff alleges disability as of July 15, 2007, due to anxiety, bi-polar disorder, mood disorder, and depression. Tr. 54, 91, 334, 584-85.

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. § 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. § 416.920 (4) (i). 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. § 416.920(4) (ii). If the claimant does not have a severe 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. § 416.920(4) (iii). 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. § 416.920(4) (iv). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she 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 and local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 ...


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