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Wolfe v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 18, 2015

RHONDA A. WOLFE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN V. ACOSTA, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Rhonda Wolfe seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI and for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Following a review of the record, the court finds the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record and the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

Administrative History

Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on February 25, 2010, and alleged a disability onset date of February 16, 2009, due to "diabetes gastritis cataracts narrowing in the neck anxiety panic attack PTSD vertigo, high blood pressure, cholesterol." Tr. 186-201.[1] The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on July 9, 2012. Tr. 42-88. At the hearing Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff, a lay witness, and a vocational expert (VE) testified.

The ALJ issued a decision on August 6, 2012, in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 57-66. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 31, 2014, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-5.

On April 4, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

Background

Plaintiff was born in April, 1962, and was 50 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 89. She completed the ninth grade. Tr. 192.

Standards

The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate her inability "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 ALJ must develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).

The district 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 as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Molina, 674 F.3d at 1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but less than a preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).

The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

Disability Evaluation

At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(I). See also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).

At Step Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant does not have any medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

At Step Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, known as Listings, are enumerated in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (Listed Impairments).

If the Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained, work-related physical and mental activities the claimant can still do on a regular and continuing basis despite his limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). See also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. "A regular and continuing basis' means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent schedule." SSR 96-8p, at *1. In other words, the Social Security Act does not require complete incapacity to be disabled. Taylor v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 659 F.3d 1228, 1234-35 (9th Cir.2011) (citing Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir. 1989)).

At Step Four the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant retains the RFC to perform work she has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

If the Commissioner reaches Step Five, she must determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work that exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724-25. Here the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Lockwood v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d 1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010). The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a VE or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines set forth in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 2. If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)(1).

ALJ's Findings

At Step One the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her February 16, 2009, alleged onset date. Tr. 19.

At Step Two the ALJ found Plaintiff has severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, obesity, tachycardia, and lumbar strain. Id.

At Step Three the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not equal in severity a listed impairment, and found Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform less than a full range of light work. The ALJ found Plaintiff can lift/carry/push/pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand/walk for six hours in an eight hour workday, and she can sit for six hours in an eight hour workday. The ALJ found Plaintiff can occasionally stoop, kneel, crawl, balance, climb and crouch. She should avoid exposure to vibration, moving machinery, and unprotected heights. Tr. 22-23.

At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the ability to perform her past relevant work as a cashier II. Tr. 26.

At Step Five, the ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing other work, including stuffer, marking clerk, and rug cleaner. Id.

Medical Evidence and Testimony

I. The Medical Record

On December 2, 2007, Plaintiff was seen in the emergency room for chest pain. Tr. 735. She reported she had a heart attack in June, but the record indicates "[o]n my review of chart, this is actually an indeterminate troponin elevation followed by a negative isotope scan." Id. On March 12, 2008, Plaintiff was seen in the emergency room for back pain. Tr. 728. On April 15 Plaintiff was seen in the emergency room for pancreatitis. Tr. 720. She was advised to follow a bland non-fat diet. On April 24 Plaintiff was seen in the emergency room for abdominal pain. Tr. 695. On May 8, 2008, Plaintiff was seen in the emergency room for foot pain with a fractured toe. Tr. 688. On May 28 Plaintiff was seen in the emergency room for back pain. Tr. 673. On August 8, 2008, Plaintiff called an ambulance after experiencing chest pain. Tr. 433. On September 8 Plaintiff was seen in the emergency ...


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