United States District Court, D. Oregon
TERRY D. SMITH Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
M. Rebers, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Janice E. Herbert,
Assistant United States Attorney, United States
Attorney's Office; Alexis L. Toma, Special Assistant
United States Attorney, Office Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon United States District Judge.
D. Smith (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of
the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). 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
protectively filed an application for DIB on February 10,
2010, alleging disability beginning November 17, 2008. AR 12.
He was 37 years old as of the claimed disability onset date.
Plaintiff alleged disability due to “lower back
problems.” AR 67. The Commissioner denied the
application initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff
thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). AR 12. An administrative hearing
was held by ALJ John Bauer (“ALJ Bauer”) on May
23, 2012. Id. ALJ Bauer subsequently ruled that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. AR
24. Plaintiff timely appealed the final decision of the
Commissioner to the United States District Court (Smith
v. Commissioner, Case No. 2:13-cv-1591-PK). Pursuant to
a stipulation of the parties, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul
Papak remanded the case for further administrative
proceedings on May 14, 2014. AR 832-33.
Court's order, which was proposed by the parties,
included, among others, provisions ordering the ALJ upon
remand to: “(4) further consider the claimant's
subjective complaints, pursuant to [Social Security Rule] SSR
96-7p; (5) expressly evaluate the treating, examining, and
non-examining medical source opinions in the updated record
and explain the reason for the weight accorded this opinion
evidence.” Id.; see also Case No.
2:13-cv-1591-PK Docket, ECF 18. The Appeals Council then
vacated the final decision and remanded the case to a new ALJ
to resolve the issues of the consistency of the vocational
expert's testimony with the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles and whether Plaintiff s diagnosed depression was a
medically determinable or severe impairment. AR 841-42. The
Appeals Council, among other things, also ordered the new ALJ
. Further evaluate the claimant's
subjective complaints and provide rationale in accordance
with the disability regulations pertaining to evaluation of
symptoms (20 CFR 404.1529) and Social Security Ruling 96-7p.
. Give further consideration to the treating
and nontreating source opinions pursuant to the provisions of
20 CFR 404.1527 and Social Security Rulings 96-2p and 96-5p
and nonexamining source opinions pursuant to the provisions
of 20 CFR 404.1527(e) and Social Security Ruling 96-6p, and
explain the weight given to such evidence. As appropriate,
the [ALJ] may request the treating and nontreating source to
provide additional evidence and/or further clarification of
the opinion (20 CFR 404.1512).
second administrative hearing was held by ALJ Ted Neiswanger
(“the ALJ”) on December 8, 2015. AR 715. The ALJ
subsequently ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled under the
Social Security Act. AR 731. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 821.
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.
The Sequential Analysis
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 impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
404.1545(b)-(c), 416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ
determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to
4. Can the claimant perform his or her “past relevant
work” with this RFC assessment? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.§§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot
perform his or her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds
to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1560(c), 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such
work, he or she is disabled. Id.
See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954
(9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 953; see also Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999);
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41. The Commissioner bears
the burden of proof at step five. Tackett, 180 F.3d
at 1100. At step five, the Commissioner must show that the
claimant can perform other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, “taking into
consideration the claimant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and work experience.”
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1566, 416.966 (describing “work which exists in the
national economy”). If the Commissioner fails to meet
this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the
Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante,
262 F.3d at 953-54; Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.