United States District Court, D. Oregon
VIOLET A. DEGNER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. Wall Law Offices of George J. Wall Attorney for Plaintiff
Billy J. Williams United States Attorney District of Oregon.
E. Hebert Assistant United States Attorney Daphne Banay
Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of General
Council Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
M. KING, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Violet A. Degner seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration's
(“Commissioner”) final decision denying her
application for Child's Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's
decision is AFFIRMED.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings
are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” means
“more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995)). It means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews, 53
F.3d at 1039).
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be
upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a
rational reading of the record, and this Court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190,
1193, 1196 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] reviewing court must
consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation
marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm
the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did
not rely. Id.; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at
Degner protectively filed applications for Child's
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on March 1,
2012, and for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on March 15, 2012. AR 84. She alleges
disability due to bipolar disorder, plus other mental
disorders; bipolar II disorder; and generalized anxiety
disorder. AR 304. In both applications, Ms. Degner alleged
disability beginning July 1, 2011. AR 84. Ms. Degner was 21
years of age on the alleged disability onset date.
Id. The Commissioner denied her application
initially on June 18, 2012, and again on September 19, 2012,
after reconsideration. AR 205-07, 208-09. Ms. Degner filed a
written request for hearing on November 5, 2012. AR 84, 210.
A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Atkins on January 27, 2014. AR 104-39.
issued a decision finding Ms. Degner not disabled as defined
by the Social Security Act on July 9, 2014. AR 84-97. Ms.
Degner filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's
decision on July 18, 2014. AR 79-80. The Appeals Council
denied her request for review on December 18, 2015, finding
that new information submitted for the first time before the
Appeals Council did not provide a basis for reviewing the
ALJ's decision. AR 2. The Appeals Council also found that
additional evidence submitted by Ms. Degner from Cascadia BHC
and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
(“PMHNP”) Kristin Cummings related to a period of
time later than the ALJ's decision of July 9, 2014, and
therefore could not affect the ALJ's decision. AR 2. Ms.
Degner now seeks review of the ALJ's decision and the
Appeals Council's refusal to incorporate this new
evidence into the record.
claimant is disabled if he or she is unable 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). “Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act.” Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (DIB), 416.920
(SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987).
Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential
process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant
mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay
or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510, 416.910. If the
claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe”
under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
impairment or combination of impairments is
“severe” if it significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a).
Unless expected to result in death, this impairment must have
lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of at
least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 416.909. If
the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis
ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment
does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments,
the analysis continues. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate
medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine
the claimant's “residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”). This is an assessment of work-related
activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular
and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his
or her ...