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Jennings v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Oregon

January 26, 2015

GARY W. JENNINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Kathryn Tassinari and Brent Wells, HARDER, WELLS, BARON & MANNING, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, and Adrian L. Brown and Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorneys, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, District of Oregon, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

Michael H. Simon United States District Judge

Gary Jennings seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Social Security Income (”SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

A. The Application

Mr. Jennings previously applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of June 12, 2006, the date on which he stopped working due to an on-the-job back injury sustained in 2004. Tr. 117, 275-76. On November 25, 2009, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael Gilbert issued a decision finding him not disabled. Tr. 26-66, 117-25. On December 21, 2009, Mr. Jennings again applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning November 26, 2009, based on the worsening of his back condition. Tr. 9, 248-58, 275-76. His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration; thereafter, he timely requested a hearing before an ALJ. Tr. 193-99. An administrative hearing was held on July 20, 2012, at which Mr. Jennings was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 67-113. On July 27, 2012, ALJ Ted Neiswanger found Mr. Jennings to be not disabled. Tr. 9-20. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, Mr. Jennings filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-3.[1]

B. The Sequential Analysis

A claimant is disabled if he 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 (“Act”). Keyser v. Comm’r Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. 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). If the claimant is performing such work, he is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Id. 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). 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, 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 listings, the analysis proceeds beyond step three. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). This is an assessment of work-related activities the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). After the ALJ determines the claimant’s RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his “past relevant work” with this RFC assessment? If so, 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 past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering his 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, the claimant is not disabled. 20 ...

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