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Haight v. Commissioner Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

April 14, 2017

LORIE A. HAIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          YOULEE YIM YOU UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Lorie A. Haight (“Haight”) seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 USC §§ 401-33, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. 42 USC §§ 1381-83f. This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 USC §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with FRCP 73 and 28 USC § 636(c). ECF #13. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         On November 20, 2012, Haight filed applications for DIB and SSI. Tr. 179, 181.[1] Her alleged onset date of disability is April 1, 2009. Tr. 179, 181. Both claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 117, 121, 127, 130. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Robert Spaulding on June 11, 2014. Tr. 26, 149. The ALJ issued a decision on September 26, 2014, finding Haight was not disabled under the Act. Tr. 9, 20-21. The Appeals Council denied Haight's request for review on September 11, 2015. Tr. 1. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this court. 20 CFR §§ 404.981, 422.210. The time period at issue is April 1, 2009, through December 31, 2014. Tr. 12.

         BACKGROUND

         Born in 1971, Haight was 43 years old at the time of the disability hearing. Tr. 28, 179. She received a GED in 1991. Tr. 209. Her past relevant work experience is in janitorial services. Tr. 209. Haight alleges she is unable to work due to: a back injury, depression, deafness in her right ear, bi-polar disorder, major back problems, and hepatitis C. Tr. 208. Her treating physician diagnosed her with: degenerative disc disease/scoliosis; arthritis in the hands, back, and neck; mild-to-moderate bilateral hearing impairment at 250-8, 000 Hertz in her right ear; and morbid obesity. Tr. 343. Haight also alleges that these impairments cause her pain and other symptoms. Tr. 208.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         Disability is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 USC § 423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098- 99 (9th Cir. 1999)); 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not disabled. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) & (b), 416.920(a)(4)(i) & (b).

         At step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has “a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment” or combination of impairments that meets the 12-month durational requirement. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii) & (c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii) & (c). Absent a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the claimant is not disabled. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ determines whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment listed in 20 CFR Pt. 404 Subpt. P, App. 1 (Listing of Impairments). 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) & (d), 416.920(a)(4)(iii) & (d). If the impairment or combination of impairments is determined to meet or equal any listed impairment, the claimant is disabled. Id.

         If adjudication proceeds beyond step three, the ALJ evaluates medical and other relevant evidence in assessing the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). The claimant's RFC is an assessment of work-related activities the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite the limitations imposed by her impairments. Id. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e); Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 (July 2, 1996).

         At step four, the ALJ uses the RFC to determine whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) & (e), 416.920(a)(4)(iv) & (e). If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, then at step five the ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform other work in the national economy. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & (g), 416.920(a)(4)(v) & (g).

         The claimant bears the initial burden of establishing disability. Lockwood v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d 1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100)). If the process reaches step five, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that jobs exist in the national economy within the claimant's RFC. Id. If the Commissioner meets this burden, then the claimant is not disabled; otherwise, the claimant is disabled. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & (g), 416.920(a)(4)(v) & (g).

         ALJ'S FINDINGS

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Haight has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date, April 1, 2009. Tr. 14.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Haight had the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease/scoliosis, morbid obesity, and mild-to-moderate hearing impairment bilaterally at 250-8000 Hz.” Id.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Haight did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled any listed impairment. Tr. 15. The ALJ found there was a lack of medical evidence showing Haight's degenerative disc disease/scoliosis met or medically equaled listing 1.04, Disorders of the Spine, because there was “no evidence of nerve root compression, limitation of motion of the spine, and motor loss . . . accompanied by sensory or reflex loss.” Id. He found Haight's bilateral, mild-to-moderate hearing loss in her right ear did not meet or medically equal listing 2.08 as the medical evidence did not indicate a speech discrimination score of 40 percent or less in her left ear. Id. The ALJ also acknowledged that, while there is no medical listing for morbid obesity, SSR 02-1p requires its effects to be considered when evaluating Haight's limitations. Tr. 15; SSR 02-1p, 2002 WL 34686281 (Sept.12, 2002) (Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Obesity).

         The ALJ next determined Haight's RFC:

[Haight] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that she requires a sit/stand option at will. She is limited to no exposure to workplace noise in excess of that allowable under OSHA regulations at 29 CFR without the use of appropriate hearing protection. When occupational noise is less than proscribed by 29 CFR, the individual's exposure is limited to occasional.

Tr. 15.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Haight's RFC prevented her from performing her past relevant work. Tr. 19.

         At step five, based on Haight's age, education, RFC, and the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Haight was capable of performing work as a basket filler, bench assembler, or assembler, electrical accessories. Tr. 19-20. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Haight was not disabled under the Act and rejected Haight's claims for DIB and SSI. Tr. 20.

         STANDARD ...


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