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Croft v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 16, 2015

GINA MARIE CROFT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of Social Security, Defendant.

TIM WILBORN, Wilborn Law Office, P.C., Las Vegas, NV, Attorney for Plaintiff.

S. AMANDA MARSHALL, United States Attorney, RONALD K. SILVER, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR.

JORDAN D. GODDARD, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN V. ACOSTA, Magistrate Judge.

Claimant Gina Maria Croft ("Plaintiff') seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83(1). This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636 (e). Following a careful review of the record, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 8, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed for SSI benefits, alleging disability beginning July 15, 1997, due to neck pain, migraines, and chronic shoulder pain with a limited range of motion. (Tr. 18, 134-44, 163.) The Commissioner denied the claim initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 79-83, 85-87.) Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Wayne N. Araki (the "ALJ"), who issued his decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 15-31.) Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council denied her request, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. (Tr. 1-6.) On September 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed for review of the decision in this court.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Born in 1962, the Plaintiff was 48 years old when she filed her application for disability and 49 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 134.) She earned a General Equivalence Degree ("GED") and attended some college without completing the requirements of a degree. (Tr. 37.) The Plaintiff worked in the past as a gas station attendant and a production worker. (Tr. 62-64.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision ifit is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammockv. 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) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." lvfartinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir.1986). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir.2007) (citation omitted).

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 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. § 416.920(b).

At step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impainnents." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 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 Secretary acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Id. ; 20 C.F.R. § 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.

At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Id. at 142; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets this burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.966.

THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

The ALJ performed the sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ found the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2010, the protective filing date. (Tr. 20.) At step two, the ALJ found the Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, bilateral degenerative joint disease of the acromioclavicular ("AC") joints, and migraine headaches. (Tr. 20.) At step three, he found the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination ofimpairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 21.)

The ALJ next assessed the Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). He found the Plaintiff had the ability to perform work at the light exertion level, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except she was limited to ...


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