United States District Court, D. Oregon
KATHY E. HILLIKER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Kathryn Tassinari Brent Wells Harder, Wells, Baron &
Manning, P.C. Attorneys for Plaintiff
J. Williams Janice E. Hebert U.S. Attorney's Attorneys
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ, United States District Judge
Kathy Hilliker brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382(c)(3)). Because the Commissioner's decision
is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence
in the record, it is affirmed.
was born on August 30, 1960, and was fifty-two years old on
her amended alleged disability onset date. Tr.
Plaintiff has a ninth grade education and past relevant work
experience as a sandwich maker. Tr. 29-30, 231. On October
25, 2012, Plaintiff filed her application for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and SSI. Tr. 20.
Plaintiff's original alleged disability onset date was
August 10, 2009. Id. Her claims were initially
denied on February 14, 2013, and again upon reconsideration
on June 26, 2013. Id. Plaintiff then requested a
hearing on July 19, 2013. Id. On June 17, 2014, a
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Robert Frank Spaulding. Tr. 38. At that
hearing, Plaintiff moved to voluntarily dismiss her DIB claim
and to amend her alleged disability onset date to October 25,
2012. Tr. 40-41. ALJ Spaulding granted her motion.
Id. On October 9, 2014, the ALJ issued a written
opinion denying Plaintiff's SSI application. Tr. 31. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's opinion the Commissioner's final
decision that Plaintiff now challenges in this Court. Tr.
claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a
five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant
bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.
first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so,
the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines whether
the claimant has a “medically severe impairment or
combination of impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S.
at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If
not, the claimant is not disabled.
three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's
impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal
“one of a number of listed impairments that the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482
U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if
not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant,
despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the
claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must
establish that the claimant can perform other work.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the
Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is
able to perform other work which exists in the national
economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
one, the Commissioner found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged
disability onset date. Tr. 22 At step two, the Commissioner
found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
osteoarthritis; somatic dysfunction; degenerative disk
disease of the cervical spine; pseudoseizures; major
depressive disorder; and panic disorder. Id.
three, the Commissioner found that Plaintiff's
impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or
equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr.
23-24. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform light work with the following limitations:
[C]laimant is limited to no climbing of ladders, scaffolds,
and ropes. The claimant is limited to no exposure to hazards
such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. The
claimant is limited to occupations that do not require the
operation of vehicles such as automobiles, forklifts, carts,
etc. The claimant is limited to simple and routine tasks. The
claimant is limited to occasional interactions with coworkers
and the public.
four, the Commissioner determined that Plaintiff was unable
to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 29-30.
five, after considering Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the Commissioner determined that there
were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform, including mail clerk
and office helper. Tr. 30-31. Therefore, the Commissioner
concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability as
defined by the Social Security Act. Tr. 31.
may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only
when the Commissioner's findings are based on legal error
or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as
a whole. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th
Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence means more than a
mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted). Courts consider the
record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports
and detracts from the Commissioner's decision.
Id.; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028,
1035 (9th Cir. 2007). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
ALJ's decision must be affirmed.” Vasquez,
572 F.3d at 591 (internal quotation marks omitted); see