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Mears v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 28, 2015

CHARLES M. MEARS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN A. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Arthur W. Stevens, III, Black Chapman Webber & Stevens, Medford, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

Bill Williams, Acting U.S. Attorney, Adrian L. Brown, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Portland, OR, Kathryn Ann Miller, Special Asst. U.S. Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN JELDERKS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Charles Mears brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II the Social Security Act (the Act). Plaintiff seeks an Order remanding the action to the Social Security Administration (the Agency) for an award of benefits. In the alternative, Plaintiff seeks an Order remanding the action to the Agency for further proceedings.

For the reasons set out below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on February 18, 2010, alleging he had been disabled since February 17, 2005.

After his claims had been denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff timely requested an administrative hearing.

On November 15, 2011, a video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marilyn Maurer. Medical Expert (ME) Ronald Devere testified at the hearing. The ALJ continued the hearing until April 10, 2012 in order for Plaintiff to obtain a neuropsychological evaluation. Plaintiff[1]; Plaintiff's wife, Lisa Mears; ME Devere; and Vocational Expert (VE) Frank Lucas testified at the supplemental video hearing. On April 12, 2012, ALJ Maurer issued a decision finding that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time from his alleged onset date through December 31, 2008, his date last insured. ALJ Maurer, however, did find that at the time of her decision Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of Huntington's chorea equaled a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

In a decision dated May 24, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In the present action, Plaintiff challenges that decision.

Background

Plaintiff was born in 1961 and was 50 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He completed a General Education Diploma (GED) in 1980 and received specialized training in electronics. He has past relevant work as a mail carrier for the post office. According to Plaintiff, he stopped working in February of 2005.

Disability Analysis

The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Below is a summary of the five steps, which also are described in Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

Step One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A claimant engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under Step Two. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

Step Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not have such an impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under Step Three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).

Step Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines whether the claimant's impairment "meets or equals" one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has such an impairment is disabled. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an impairment listed in the regulations, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under Step Four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

Step Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to perform relevant work he or she has done in the past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do work performed in the past, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under Step Five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

Step Five. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds that the claimant is able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can do. The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a vocational expert (VE) or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can do, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does not meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).

At Steps One through Four, the burden of proof is on the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

Medical Record and Lay Witness Statements

I. Medical Evidence

In 2010, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Huntington's chorea. However, there is no medical evidence of this illness between Plaintiff's alleged onset date and December 31, 2008, his date last insured. The only medical evidence of record during the ...


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