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Moles v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 22, 2017

ARLETA MARIE MOLES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Arleta Marie Moles, Pro Se Plaintiff,

          Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney Janice E. Hébert, Asst. U.S. Attorney Ryan Lu Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          John Jelderks U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Arleta M. Moles (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1381a seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on December 13, 2011, alleging disability beginning September 27, 2010. Tr. 23, 69, 70. After Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was convened on November 14, 2013, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) David DeLaittre. Tr. 46-68. The ALJ issued a decision on April 23, 2014, finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 23-37. The decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on September 25, 2015, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-4. Plaintiff now appeals to this court for review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         Background

         Born April 20, 1963, Plaintiff was 47 years old on the alleged onset date. Tr. 70. Plaintiff is a high school graduate and attended two years of college. Tr. 260. She has past relevant work as a sales associate, customer service clerk, flagger, fast food cook, waitress, and small products assembler. Tr. 35. Plaintiff alleges disability due to fracture of the tibia, right knee impairment, hip pain, osteoporosis, myofascial pain syndrome, neuropathy, and ulnar nerve pain in the right elbow. Tr. 259.

         Disability Analysis

The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The five step sequential inquiry is summarized below, as described in Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Step One. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step two. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 406.920(b).

         Step Two. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not have any such impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has one or more severe impairment(s), the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step three. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).

         Step Three. Disability cannot be based solely on a severe impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines whether the claimant's impairment “meets or equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has an impairment that meets a listing is presumed disabled under the Act. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an impairment listed in the listings, the Commissioner's evaluation of the claimant's case proceeds under step four. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).

         Step Four. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to perform work he or she has done in the past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do past relevant work, the Commissioner's evaluation of claimant's case proceeds under step five. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

         Step Five. The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds claimant is able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that claimant is able to perform. The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant is able to do, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does not meet the burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g)(1), 416.920(g)(1).

         At steps one through four of the sequential inquiry, the burden of proof is on the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant can perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

         The ALJ's Decision

         At the first step of the disability analysis, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2016, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, September 17, 2010. Tr. 25.

         At the second step, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: meniscus tear, status post-arthroscopy; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; right elbow injury with resulting mild nerve damage; and myofascial pain syndrome. Tr. 26. The ALJ additionally noted that Plaintiff's medically determinable anxiety disorder and depression did not cause more than a slight limitation on her ability to perform basic work activities. Id.

         At the third step, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled a presumptively disabling impairment set out in the Listings, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Tr. 28.

         Before proceeding to the fourth step, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). He found Plaintiff retained the capacity to:

[P]erform less than the full range of light work . . . [she] can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The claimant can stand and/or walk ...

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