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Michaud v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 11, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Michael J. McShane United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Angela S. Michaud seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Commissioner found that Ms. Michaud was not disabled according to the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) (3). Because the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


         Ms. Michaud filed her SSI application on February 15, 2012, claiming a disability onset date of October 22, 2004. Tr. 20.[1] The claim was denied initially on July 23, 2012, and upon reconsideration on November 26, 2012. Tr. 105-116. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on June 9, 2014 and on October 31, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim. Tr. 17-32. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Michaud's request for a review of the ALJ's decision on June 1, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1. This appeal followed.


         The Commissioner's decision will be affirmed if her decision meets all the legal requirements and her legal conclusions are supported by substantial evidence within the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r for Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “Substantial evidence is ‘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.'” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which weakens the Commissioner's decision. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).

         The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner's if an analysis of the evidence on the record as a whole can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the commissioner's decision. Messmer v. Colvin, 2016 WL 53397278 at *1 (D. Or. Sept.23, 2016). However, a reviewing court can only affirm the Commissioner's decision on grounds that the Commissioner considered when making its decision. Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006).

         An error that is harmless is not sufficient to reverse an ALJ's decision. Stout, 454 F.3d at 1055-56. “[T]he burden of showing that an error is harmful normally falls upon the party attacking the agency's determination.” Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409 (2009).

         The ALJ is not required to discuss all the evidence presented, but must explain why any evidence of significant probative value has been rejected. Stark v. Shalala, 886 F.Supp. 733, 735 (D. Or. 1995).


         According to the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if she is unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to a physical or mental impairment that is medically determinable. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must be such that it is expected to result in death, or an impairment that has lasted or could last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. Id. When determining whether an individual is disabled, the Social Security Administration applies a five step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The burden of proof for the first four steps lies with the claimant and if she meets her burden at each of those steps, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id.

         Here, at step one, the ALJ determined that Ms. Michaud did not engage in any SGA since February 9, 2012, her disability onset date. Tr. 537. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Michaud's gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), mild degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine, chronic pain disorder, and fibromyalgia were severe. Id. Furthermore, the ALJ decided that Ms. Michaud's alleged mental impairments (migraines, somatic symptom disorder and anxiety) and her physical conditions of Barrett's esophagus, status post Nissan fundoplication, reactive airway disease, chronic pelvic pain, status post bilateral salpingooophrectomy for endometriosos and lysis of adhesions, and intestinal metaplasia were not severe.

         At step three, the ALJ found that none of Ms. Michaud's impairments individually or combined met or medically equaled the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Subsequently, the ALJ found that Ms. Michaud had the residual function capacity (RFC) to perform a range of light work activity. In calculating her RFC, the ALJ considered that Ms. Michaud could lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, she was capable of sitting or walking for six hours of an eight hour workday, as well as always carrying out simple instructions and complex instructions occasionally. Tr. 539. However, the ALJ found that she should neither climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, nor be exposed to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights or large moving equipment. Id.

         At step four, after consultation with a vocational expert (VE) the ALJ determined that Ms. Michaud is capable of performing her past relevant jobs as a front desk reception clerk (sedentary), bill collector (light) and health club sales person (light), which were all semi-skilled in character. Tr. 542-543. In the alternative, the ALJ completed a step 5 evaluation and found that Ms. Michaud could perform other ...

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