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Woosley v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 13, 2017

CHARLES WOOSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael J. McShane United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Charles Woosley brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Because the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on January 18, 2012, alleging disability beginning August 1, 2009. Tr. 51. The claim was denied initially on May 3, 2012 and upon reconsideration on August 8, 2012. Tr. 110-113. A hearing was held on February 25, 2014 and on April 4, 2014 the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 48-67. The Appeals Council denied the request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-5. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r for Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “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 v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).

         The Commissioner's findings are upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. If evidence exists to support more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193; Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1034-35 (9th Cir. 2000) (when evidence can rationally be interpreted in more than one way, the court must uphold the Commissioner's decision). A reviewing court, however, “cannot affirm the Commissioner's decision on a ground that the Administration did not invoke in making its decision.” Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). A court may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless. Id. at 1055-56. “[T]he burden of showing that an error is harmful normally falls upon the party attacking the agency's determination.” Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409 (2009).

         The ALJ need not discuss all evidence presented, but must explain why significant probative evidence has been rejected. Stark v. Shalala, 886 F.Supp. 733, 735 (D. Or. 1995). See also Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1012 (9th Cir. 2003) (in interpreting the evidence and developing the record, the ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence).

         DISCUSSION

         The Social Security Administration uses a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. Id.

         Here, the ALJ found at step one of the sequential analysis that there had been a continuous 12-month period which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Tr. 54. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc and joint disease of the lumbar spine. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 55. At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant work as an auto-parts counter person and potato sorter, both as actually and generally performed. Tr. 61. The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff as having the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except the plaintiff is limited to occasional climbing of ramps or stairs; no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequent balancing; occasional stooping, kneeling and crouching; no crawling; and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, excessive vibration, and hazardous machinery. Tr. 56.

         Plaintiff disputes the ALJ's finding at step 4 contending that, when the entire record is examined, there is not substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision and the decision is based on improper legal standards.. Pl.'s Br. 8-9, ECF No. 11. Plaintiff contends that his combined impairments are of a severity sufficient to preclude him from performing his past work, as well as any work which exists in significant numbers in the national and local economy. Id.

         I. Substantial evidence

         A. Reliance on vocational expert ...


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