United States District Court, D. Oregon
DAMON J. STALFORD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
Merrill Schneider, Schneider Kerr & Gibney Law Offices, Portland, Oregon, Attorney for plaintiff.
Billy Williams, Ronald K. Silver, United States Attorney's Office, Portland, Oregon, Jordan D. Goddard, Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
ANN AIKEN, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Damon Stalford brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act") to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.
On March 31, 2011, plaintiff filed his current application for SSI. Tr. 251-52. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 173-76, 182-83. Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 21, 2013, but due to old assessments, the ALJ continued the hearing to obtain updated examinations. Tr. 18. On September 9, 2013, the plaintiff appeared again before the ALJ, wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 37-65. On November 5, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 18-29. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr: 1-7.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Born on March 16, 1968, plaintiff was 34 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 45 years old at the time.of the hearing. Tr. 251. Plaintiff graduated from high school. Tr. 41. He worked previously as a grass seed farmer and construction worker. Tr. 60-61. Plaintiff alleges disability as of January 1, 2003, due to back, left elbow, and knee pain, as well as depression, anxiety, head tremors, and forearm numbness. Tr. 279.
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) (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). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
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, the claimant 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." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
At step two, the Commissioner evaluates 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 the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.
At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is ...