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Calkins v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 12, 2015

RONNA CALKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant

For Ronna Calkins, Plaintiff: George J. Wall, Law Offices of George J. Wall, Portland, OR.

For Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant: Adrian L. Brown, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Portland, OR; Diana Swisher Andsager, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA; Ronald K. Silver, United States Attorneys Office, Portland, OR.

REPORT & RECOMMENDATION

MARK D. CLARKE, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Ronna Calkins (" Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (" Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (" SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § § 405(g) and 1383(c). Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it should be AFFIRMED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on July 5, 1969. Tr. 73. She has never been employed. Tr. 39. On June 3, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI alleging disability since November 1, 2000 due to slipped disks, ankle and neck problems, a learning disability, memory issues, and " right hand below thumb swells[.]" Tr. 18; 73; 79. The Commissioner denied Plaintiffs application initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 18. At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ) on July 13, 2012. Tr. 18. On August 20, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 15. The Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiffs request for review, rendering the ALJ's denial the final decision of the Commissioner Tr. 1. This appeal followed.

DISABILITY ANALYSIS

A claimant is disabled if he or she is 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). " Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (DIB); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (SSI); Bowen v. Yuckerl, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4); 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential process asks the following series of questions:

1. Is the claimant performing " substantial gainful activity?" 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1510; 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment " severe" under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Unless expected to result in death, an impairment is " severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1521(a); 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1509; 416.909. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment " meet or equal" one or more of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds beyond step three. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine the claimant's " residual functional capacity" (" RFC"). This is an assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 416.920(e); 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her " past relevant work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v); 404.1560(c); ...

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