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Edmiston v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 1, 2015

NEIL T. EDMISTON Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Defendant.

SHERWOOD J. REESE, DREW L. JOHNSON, Drew L. Johnson, P.C., Eugene, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

RONALD K. SILVER, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, JORDAN D. GODDARD, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MALCOLM F. MARSH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Neil T. Edmiston seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C §§ 401-403, and application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) (3). For the reasons that follow, I affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI on February 19, 2013, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2012, due to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and blackouts.[1] Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements for a DIB application through September 30, 2015.

Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). An ALJ held a hearing on April 30, 2014, at which plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Mark Mann, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On May 23, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

Born in 1965, plaintiff was 48 years old on the date of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. Plaintiff completed two years of college and obtained certification as a commercial building engineer. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a heating and air conditioning installer; house painter; sales clerk; and case aide.

THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

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. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Valentine v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can do other work which exists in the national economy. Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2012. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: PTSD; major depressive disorder (MOD); and polysubstance dependence. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.

The ALJ assessed plaintiff with a residual functional capacity (RFC) to a full range of work at all exertion levels as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567 but with the following additional non-exertion limitations. Plaintiff can consistently perform simple, routine tasks of one to two steps and occasionally perform detailed tasks; can have occasional contact with the public; and can have structured, superficial interaction with coworkers. Plaintiff also is capable of low stress jobs, defined as those not requiring fast-paced production, with limited supervision and limited interaction with supervisors, and infrequent changes in tasks or setting.

At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, such as wood working machine off-bearer, cleaner, and hand packager. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from December 31, 2012, through the date of the decision.

ISSUES ON REVIEW

On appeal to this court, plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate plaintiff's RFC; (2)the ALJ erred in posing the hypothetical to the VE; (3) the ALJ erred at step five; and (3) the ALJ failed to evaluate the materiality of plaintiff's substance abuse.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Hill, 698 F.3d at 1159 (internal quotations omitted); Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690. The court must weigh all the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's decision must be upheld, even if the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Batson v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. ...


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