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Dewolfe v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 16, 2017

BRANDON LEE DEWOLFE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MERRILL SCHNEIDER Schneider Kerr Law Attorneys for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney

          JANICE E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney

          DAVID MORADO Regional Chief Counsel KATHRYN A. MILLER Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Brandon Lee DeWolfe seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI 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 protectively filed his application for DIB on June 4, 2013, and his application for SSI on June 24, 2013. Tr. 31.[2] Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of June 1, 2012.[3] Tr. 31. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on July 22, 2015. Tr. 31, 48-83. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

         On August 7, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 31-42. On September 28, 2015, Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. Tr. 22. On February 5, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-4. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         On March 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on November 10, 1970. Tr. 41. Plaintiff was 44 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff has a tenth-grade education. Tr. 41, 242. The ALJ found Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as an auto mechanic and auto-shop supervisor. Tr. 40.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to nerve damage to his right arm and shoulder, arm and shoulder pain, ruptured disc in lower spine, low-back pain, anxiety, scar tissue in the lungs, torn cartilage in his left knee, and neck pain from a curved spine. Tr. 241. Plaintiff also has Erb's Palsy from a birth trauma resulting in a short dysfunctional right arm. Tr. 34, 383.

         Except as noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. See Tr. 34-40. After carefully reviewing the medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence.

         STANDARDS

         The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate his 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 evaluating a claimant's testimony, 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 (SGA). 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 impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, ...


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