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Ruckdashel v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 23, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Cynthia Ruckdashel brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income payments (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

The issues before this Court are: (1) whether the administrative law judge (ALJ) erred in evaluating the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician; (2) whether the ALJ erred in evaluating plaintiff's testimony; and (3) whether the ALJ erred in evaluating lay witness testimony. Because the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in November 2010, alleging disability since October 29, 2010. Tr. 213-19, 220-27. These claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 23. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an ALJ, and appeared before the Honorable Mary Kay Rauenzahn on July 31, 2012. Tr. 23. ALJ Rauenzahn denied plaintiff's claims by a written decision dated September 27, 2012. Tr. 20-34. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which was subsequently denied, thus rendering the ALJ's decision final. Tr. 1-6. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.

Plaintiff, born on August 16, 1959, tr. 213, graduated from high school, attended three years of college, and worked as a clerk, lead cashier, and office manager, tr. 263. Plaintiff alleges disability due to: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and right shoulder; posttraumatic headaches; and chronic pain syndrome. Pl.'s Br. 2, ECF No. 13.


The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal 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 is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989).


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). The Social Security Administration utilizes a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Id.

At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease; headaches; chronic pain syndrome; and degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder. Tr. 25.

Between steps three and four, the ALJ found:

[C]laimant has the [RFC] to perform light exertion work with lifting and carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, standing and walking six or more hours of an eight hour workday and sitting two hours of an eight hour workday. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. She can occasionally crawl and reach overhead bilaterally. The claimant is to avoid concentrated exposure to cold and noise and have no exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. She can occasionally [perform] handling and fingering bilaterally. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry out only simple instructions that can be learned in 30 days or less.

Tr. 28. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 32. At step five, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could work as a bakery worker (DOT § 524.687-022), dealer account representative (DOT § 241.367-038), and laminator (DOT § 569.686-046); each existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 32. The ALJ therefore concluded plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 33.

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly rejecting the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician; (2) improperly rejecting plaintiff's testimony; and ...

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