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Wells v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 1, 2015

CYNTHIA KAY WELLS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Kathryn Tassinari and Drew Johnson, Drew L. Johnson, P.C., Eugene, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney, and Ronald K. Silver, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Portland, OR, John C. Lamont, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL McSHANE, District Judge.

Cynthia Kay Wells ("plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Income ("SSI"). Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the decision is AFFIRMED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Application

Born in 1972, plaintiff was 39 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. Tr. 47, 172. She dropped out of school after the ninth grade and earned her GED in 2000. Tr. 52, 241. She completed some college and reported a history of working at several short-term, unskilled jobs. Tr. 71-72, 183. Plaintiff last worked in 2004, at the Courtyard Cafe. Tr. 40. She alleges disability due to personality disorder, panic attacks, stress, fibromyalgia, anemia, and kidney problems. Tr. 176.

Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on December 31, 2009, alleging disability as of January 1, 2002. Tr. 149-154. After the Commissioner denied her application initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 102-04. An administrative hearing was held on August 30, 2012. Tr. 31-84. At the hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to December 31, 2009. Tr. 36.

On December 21, 2012, ALJ Alan Beall issued a written decision finding plaintiff not to be disabled. Tr. 12-20. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's subsequent request for review on February 26, 2014, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-4. This appeal followed.

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 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 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. § 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. § 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). 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. § 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. § 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. § 416.909. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. § 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, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds beyond step three. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"). This is an assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e); 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her "past relevant work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her ...

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