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Krajewski v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 5, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Michael J. McShane United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Maureen Krajewski 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.


         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on January 20, 2012, alleging disability beginning May 1, 2009. Tr. 16. The onset date was amended to September 28, 2011. Tr. 21. The claim was denied initially on June 22, 2012 and upon reconsideration on December 10, 2012. Id. A hearing was held on May 6, 2014 and on May 29, 2014 the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff. Tr. 31. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on January 9, 2016 making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-4. This appeal followed.


         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).


         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 Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) since September 28, 2011, the amended alleged onset date. Tr. 18. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: alcohol dependence in remission, anxiety, and arthralgias Tr. 19. 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.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work except that she could stand and walk for two hours per day, could perform postures occasionally, could occasionally manipulate with her hands, and should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards and extreme cold. Tr. 21. Given these restrictions, and relying on the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Krajewski could perform unskilled light and sedentary jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, such as mail room work, small products assembly, addresser, and account clerk. Tr. 26-27. The ALJ concluded that Krajewski was not disabled from September 28, 2011 through the date of the decision. Tr. 27.

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's decision to deny Plaintiff's claim for disability is not supported by substantial evidence and contains errors of law. Pl.'s Br. 1-2. Plaintiff argues she does not have the residual functional capacity to perform the work the ALJ described and that (1) the ALJ did not give clear and convincing reasons for discounting plaintiff's report of her symptoms and (2) the ALJ improperly weighted opinions of record. Pl.'s Br. 9-14. Finally, plaintiff argues the ALJ did not property craft the residual functional capacity and hypothetical to the vocational expert resulting in a five step finding that was supported by substantial evidence. Pl.'s Br. 15-17.

         I. Clear and convincing reasons for discounting ...

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