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Luther v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 12, 2015

MICHAEL LUTHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Michael Luther, Plaintiff: James S. Coon, LEAD ATTORNEY, Swanson Thomas Coon & Newton, Portland, OR.

For Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant: Adrian L. Brown, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon, Portland, OR; Christopher J. Brackett, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA; Ronald K. Silver, United States Attorneys Office, Portland, OR.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

Patricia Sullivan, United States Magistrate Judge.

Michael Luther (" plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the " Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the " Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (" SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB") under Titles II and XVI of the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 8, 2009, plaintiff protectively filed applications for SSI and DIB under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Tr. 93-94. After his claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (" ALJ"). Tr. 20, 120-21. After a hearing, held on June 1, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff was not disabled until September 3, 2011, the date his age category changed. Tr. 16-34, 35-56. The Appeals Council (" AC") denied plaintiff's subsequent request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final Agency decision. Tr. 1-3. This appeal followed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Born in 1956, plaintiff was 53 years old on the alleged onset date of August 28, 2009. Tr. 57-59. Plaintiff completed some college and speaks English. Tr. 40. He has past relevant work as a bartender, server, and landscape worker. Tr. 51. Plaintiff alleges disability due to traumatic brain injury resulting from an incident where he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle. Tr. 188.

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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)). 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). " Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005) (the court " must uphold the ALJ's decision where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation").

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, plaintiff 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, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in " substantial gainful activity"; if so, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).

At 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. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

At 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." Id.; 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; ...


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