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Oates v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 26, 2015

BARRY OATES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Bruce W. Brewer, P.O. Box 421, West Linn, OR 97068. Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, and Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, District of Oregon, 1000 S.W. Third Avenue, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97201-2902; Jordan D. Goddard, Special Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL, Social Security Administration, 701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2900 M/S 221A, Seattle, WA 98104-7075. Of Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL H. SIMON, District Judge.

Barry Oates ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II and supplemental social security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

STANDARDS

The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quoting Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039).

Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a rational reading of the record, and this Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did not rely. Id .; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at 1226.

BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Application

On August 5, 2009, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2005. AR 11. Plaintiff was born on December 20, 1957 and was 47 years old as of the alleged disability date. He currently is 57 years old. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on January 15, 2010, and upon reconsideration on June 10, 2010. Plaintiff was found not to be disabled on or before December 31, 2005, the date Plaintiff was last insured. AR 85-98. On July 6, 2010, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing. AR 100-01. On July 14, 2011, the hearing took place, and on July 19, 2011, ALJ John Bauer issued a decision from the bench, finding Plaintiff disabled as of December 1, 2004. AR 73.

On appeal, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case because the Appeals Council concluded that the ALJ's finding of disability was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. AR 77-79. The Appeals Council also noted what it believed to be a typographical error: Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of December 1, 2005, but the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled as of December 1, 2004. AR 77. Because nothing in the record established that Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date, the Appeals Council concluded that this finding exceeded the scope of the applications filed. Id.

On remand, ALJ Paul Robeck held a hearing and issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act before December 19, 2012, but that Plaintiff was disabled as of December 19, 2012, when Plaintiff became an individual of "advanced age" under Social Security Regulations. AR 24. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not disabled from December 1, 2005 through December 19, 2012. The Appeals Council declined review and Plaintiff now seeks review of the Commissioner's decision in this Court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

B. The Sequential 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), 416.920 (SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 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), ...

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