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Pofahl v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 24, 2015

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

Bruce W. Brewer, West Linn, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall Ronald K. Silver, United States Attorney Office, Portland, Oregon, Kathryn A. Miller, Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant.


ANN AIKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kimberly Pofahl brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the Act) to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Title II disability insurance benefits (DIB). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


On August 19, 2010, plaintiff protectively applied for DIB. Tr. 157. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 88-91, 94-96. On March 13, 2012, plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) appeared and testified before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).Tr. 33-65. On April 27, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 15-28. On June 4, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-4. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.


Born on March 28, 1966, plaintiff was forty-four years old as of her alleged onset date of disability and forty-six years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 26, 157. Plaintiff has a tenth-grade education and past relevant work as a stock selector and cashier/checker. Tr. 26, 178. Plaintiff alleges disability as of April 25, 2010 due to osteoarthritis, back problems, and back and leg pain. Tr. 43-44, 177.


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 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted) 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, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and 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, 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 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" during the period of alleged disability. Tr. 20; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments" of degenerative disc disease, mild osteoarthritis in the left hip, and obesity. Tr. 20; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). However, at step three, the ALJ found that these impairments did not meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

The ALJ then determined plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) and found that plaintiff could perform sedentary work with certain exertional limitations; plaintiff must be able to sit and/or stand "at will, " she cannot climb ladders, ropes scaffolds or stairs, and she cannot kneel or crawl. Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Based on this RFC finding, at step four the ...

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