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Berry v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 30, 2017

JEFFREY R. BERRY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jeffrey R. Berry brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), The Commissioner denied plaintiffs application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.


         On November 4, 2012, plaintiff Jeffrey R, Berry filed an application for DIB that alleged disability since July 10, 2009. Tr. 17, 162-63, 280. Plaintiff based his request for benefits on a number of conditions, including osteoarthritis in the spine and knees, chronic pain, degenerative disc disease, and spinal herniations. Tr, 281. The application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Tr. 96-100, 102-105. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found plaintiff not disabled on December 19, 2014. Tr. 14-29. The Appeals Council denied review, and plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-4.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as 1) it is based on proper legal standards and 2) its findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). The district court reviews the record as a whole, and must weigh both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). If evidence presents the possibility for multiple inteipretations and the Commissioner's decision is rational, the decision must be affirmed because "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlundv. Massanari, 253 F, 3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         The initial burden of proof rests upon plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, plaintiff must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected ... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not engage in substantial activity between his alleged onset date of July 10, 2009 and his date last insured of December 31, 2011. Tr. 19; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bilateral knee arthritis, lumbar radiculopathy, spinal stenosis, status post left total knee arthroplasty, and bursitis of the right hip. Tr. 19; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c). At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or combination, did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr. 20; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b), except that plaintiff could only stand and walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday. Tr. 21; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e). The ALJ included several other limitations in plaintiffs RFC, including limiting plaintiff to sitting for six hours in a workday and to pushing and pulling as much as he could lift and carry. Tr. 21. At step four, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. Tr. 27; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f).

         At step five, the ALJ found plaintiff could perform several jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 27-28; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g). The ALJ based this decision on plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, and determined that plaintiff could have performed the requirements of occupations like the following: cashier, small products assembler, and electronics worker. Tr. 27-28. Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied his application for benefits.


         Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) rejecting plaintiffs testimony about the severity of his symptoms; (2) rejecting a medical opinion on the severity of plaintiffs symptoms; (3) classifying plaintiff as capable of performing light work as defined by agency guidelines; and (4) relying on the testimony of a vocational expert. I address each argument in turn.

         I. Plaintiff's Symptom Testimony

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to provide adequate reasons under the "clear and convincing" standard to partially discredit plaintiffs testimony. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F, 3d 995, 1015 (9th Cir. 2014), Defendant argues the ALJ's disregard for the ...

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