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Bahles v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 4, 2017


          ROBYN M. REBERS, Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon

          JANICE E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney

          LISA GOLDOFTAS Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration, Attorneys for Defendant


          Malcolm F. Marsh, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Pamela J. Bahles seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for aperiod of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C, § 405(g). For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.


         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for a period of disability and DIB benefits on September 27, 2012, alleging disability beginning July 5, 2001, due to back pain, neck pain, and hip and leg problems. Tr. Soc. Sec. Admin. R. ("Tr.") at 12, 67, 69, ECFNo. 11. Plaintiffs claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (" ALJ"). The ALJ held a hearing on November 14, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Lynn A. Jones, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On December 19, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

         Plaintiff was bom in 1953, and was 47 years old on the alleged onset of disability date and 53 on her date last insured. Plaintiff completed high school, completed two years of college, and has an associate's degree in hospitality management. Tr. 53, 157. Plaintiff has past relevant work as an office manager, motel manager, and restaurant hostess/manager. Tr. 20.


         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled, Bowenv. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140(1987);20C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Valentine v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009); Tackett v. Apfeh 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. Astme, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements through December 31, 2006. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset of disability through her date last insured. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, mild foraminal stenosis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments, or combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.

         The ALJ assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with additional limitations: Plaintiff can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she can push and pull up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she can sit six out of eight hours and stand and walk up to six hours total out of eight hours; she can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally; she can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; she can never work at unprotected heights or around heavy machinery; she can never operate a motor vehicle as part of her day-to-day job; she must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibrations; and she can only occasionally perform bilateral fingering. Tr. 16.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ found that considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including such representative occupations as: greeter, gate guard, and usher. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from July 5, 2001 through December 31, 2006.


         On appeal to this court, Plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated her testimony; (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion of Robert Hander, M.D.; and (3) the RFC fails to incorporate her lifting, carrying, and fingering functional limitations. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of legal error. Alternatively, the Commissioner contends that even if the ALJ erred, Plaintiff has not demonstrated harmful error.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied 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. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014); 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. 2004), If the evidence supports the ...

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