United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division
OPINION & ORDER
D. CLARKE United States Magistrate Judge.
June Overton-Perez, acting pro se, seeks judicial review
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
her application for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental security income pursuant
to the Social Security Act. For the reasons below, the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
was born March 14, 1959, and is currently fifty-eight years
old. Tr. 363. Plaintiff is divorced; has a high school
education; continues to occasionally do work akin to a
real-estate auctioneer, and previously worked as a process
server, family coordinator, and a court mediator. Tr. 36-39,
53-55, 356, 358.
September 2013, Plaintiff filed for a period of disability
and disability benefits; she also filed for supplemental
security income. Tr. 14. She alleged disability onset
beginning January 1, 2008. Tr. 14. On December 4, 2015,
Plaintiff had a hearing before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"). Tr. 32. At the beginning of the hearing,
and after conferring with her attorney, Plaintiff amended the
alleged onset date to August 1, 2011, which was accepted by
the ALJ. Tr. 35-36.
April 2010, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle
accident; she states she was a passenger in a PT Cruiser that
was hit on the passenger side by an oncoming vehicle. Tr.
756. She suffered contusions from the accident and was
treated and released the same day from the emergency room.
Tr. 40, 756. Following the accident, Plaintiff sought medical
care, complaining of back, shoulder, and chest pain; she
indicated she was having trouble getting in and out of her
car, causing her to miss work. Tr. 756-57. X-rays showed an
irregularity of the cortex at the L5 vertebrae, as well as
vertebral asymmetry. Tr. 279. A June 2010 imaging report,
however, indicated that her "cervical vertebrae
appear[ed] normal in height and alignment, " there were
"[n]o fractures or significant subluxations, " disc
spacing "all appear[ed] relatively well preserved,
" and there was "no abnormal prevertebral soft
tissue swelling." Tr. 759.
the accident, though, Plaintiff has experienced persistent
back pain and numbness in her right leg and other lower
extremities. Tr. 14, 279, 329. A CT scan of Plaintiff s
lumbar spine "revealed arthropathy, joint space
narrowing, and [a] vacuum phenomenon at the L4-5 facet joints
bilaterally." Tr. 279. In addition to chronic back pain
and numbness, Plaintiff also complains of migraines, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), asthma,
sleep apnea, anxiety, arthritis, environmental allergies,
intestinal issues such as polyps and chronic constipation,
carpal tunnel syndrome, and Antiphospholipid Antibody
Syndrome,  among other ailments. Tr. 22, 258-59, 278,
stated, Plaintiff applied for disability in September 2013
and had a hearing in front of an ALJ in December 2015. Tr.
32. Twenty days after the hearing, the ALJ issued her
decision, which found that the severe impairments the ALJ
found Plaintiff to suffer from did not preclude her ability
to perform past relevant work as a family coordinator and a
process server. Tr. 26. Accordingly, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security
Tr. 26. On April 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's denial
the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1. This timely
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). 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). Unless expected to
result in death, an impairment 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). This impairment must have lasted or
must 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)(H). 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 proceeds to the "residual functional
capacity" ("RFC") assessment.
a. The ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence
to assess and determine the claimant's 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 step four.
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,
954-55 (9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 954. The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. 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." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1100 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted); 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 954-55; Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.
the five-step analysis, the ALJ found:
1. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her amended alleged onset date of August 1, 2011. (20
CFR § 404.1571 et seq.). Tr. 16.
2. Plaintiff has the following severe medically determinable
impairments: trochanteric bursitis/sacroiliac dysfunction;
mild facet arthropathy/lumbago; COPD; asthma; sleep apnea;
and obesity. (20 CFR § 404.1520(c)). Tr. 17.
3. Plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of
impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one
of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
1. (20 CFR §§ ...