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Espenas v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 30, 2014

DAWN R. ESPENAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Robyn M. Rebers, ROBYN M. REBERS, LLC, Wilsonville, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, District of Oregon, Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, DISTRICT OF OREGON, Portland, OR, Gerald Hill, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendants.

ORDER

MARCO A. HERNNDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Dawn Espenas brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c) (3)). Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the decision is AFFIRMED.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB on October 19, 2011, alleging an onset date of February 26, 2006.[1] Tr. 14. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 136-144, 148-0F 154. On October 28, 2013, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 32-54. During the hearing, she amended her alleged onset date to March 31, 2011. Tr. 34. On November 8, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 11-26. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-6.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges disability based on major depressive disorder, anxiety, back pain, posttraumatic stress disorder, and fatigue. Tr. 95, 113, 239. She testified that she is unable to work because she has difficulty completing tasks, leaving the house, being in public, interacting with others (particularly supervisors and men), and lifting more than ten pounds. Tr. 43-49. She was forty-two years old at the time of the administrative hearing. Tr. 36. She graduated from high school and attended one term of college. Tr. 36. She has past work experience as a child care provider, receptionist, file clerk, housekeeper, and elderly care provider. Tr. 36-37. Because the parties are familiar with the medical and other evidence in the record, the Court refers to any additional relevant facts in the discussion section below.

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 e.g., Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). 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. 137 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 to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, 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

At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 16. Next, at steps two and three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, obesity, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but that the impairments did not meet or equal, either singly or in combination, a listed impairment. Tr. 16. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b) except she is limited to lifting and carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, standing or walking for six hours in an eight-hour day, sitting for six hours in an eight-hour day, and occasionally climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Tr. 19. She is capable of carrying out very short and simple instructions, and is limited to occasional interaction with the public and casual contact with coworkers. Tr. 19. With this residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. 25. However, at step five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the economy, such as housekeeper. Tr. 25-26. Thus the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled. Id.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 ...


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