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Jurgens v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 11, 2015

JAY JURGENS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

PATRICIA SULLIVAN, Magistrate Judge.

Jay Jurgens ("plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Title II disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 2, 2012, plaintiff filed a Title II application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of July 1, 2010, with a date last insured ("DLI") of December 31, 2010. Tr. 18, 130-31. After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 18, 74-75. On June 11, 2013, an ALJ hearing was held at which plaintiff and plaintiff's wife, Nancy Jurgens, testified; plaintiff was represented by counsel. Tr. 18, 27-44. A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared at the hearing. Tr. 18, 30. On June 27, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 18-22. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. Thereafter, plaintiff filed an appeal in this Court.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Born on May 20, 1952, plaintiff was 58 years old on the alleged onset date and the DLI and was 61 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 45. Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed one year of college. Tr. 195. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a construction contractor. Tr. 195. He alleges disability beginning July 1, 2010, due to dementia, high blood pressure, depression, and arthritis. Tr. 45, 194.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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) (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." 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, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005) (the court "must uphold the ALJ's decision where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation").

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. § 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 impairments." 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 [Commissioner] 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, he is not disabled; if he 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 that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 142; ...


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