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Saari v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 28, 2017

THEA SAARI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          BRUCE W. BREWER Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS JANICE E. HEBERT DAVID MORADO LARS J. NELSON Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Thea Saari seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Titles XVI and II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner and DISMISSES this matter.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on September 28, 2012, and alleged a disability onset date of June 5, 2006. Tr. 195, 216.[2] Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on February 21, 2014. Tr. 50-78. At the hearing Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney.

         On June 6, 2014, the ALJ issued an opinion in which she found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 25-39. On January 29, 2016, that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-6. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on December 23, 1979. Tr. 195. Plaintiff was 34 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 54. Plaintiff has a high-school equivalency diploma. Tr. 55, 220. Plaintiff does not have any past relevant work experience. Tr. 37, 59.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, and "back pain." Tr. 219.

         Except when noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. After carefully reviewing the medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. See Tr. 27-37.

         STANDARDS

         The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9thCir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate her inability "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). The ALJ must develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).

         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin,, 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Molina, 674 F.3d. at 1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but less than a preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).

         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         I. The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation

         At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (a) (4) (I), 416.920 (a) (4) (I) . See also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).

         At Step Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant does not have any medically severe impairments or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

         At Step Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed ...


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