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Aguirre v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 19, 2017

SANDRA L. AGUIRRE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          ROBERT A. BARON KATHERINE EITENMILLER Harder Wells Baron & Manning, PC Attorneys for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon JANICE E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney

          LISA GOLDOFTAS Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Malcolm F. Marsh, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Sandra L. Aguirre seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and child's disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§401-403, and application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C, §§ 1381-1383f. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons that follow, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decisions.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed DIB, SSI, and child's disability benefit applications on December 12, 2012, alleging disability beginning September 1, 2009, due to generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), chronic depression, nausea, bipolar disorder, back and shoulder pain, and abdominal pain. Tr. Soc. Sec. Admin. R. ("Tr.") 116, 305, ECF Nos. 9 & 10. Plaintiffs claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ held a hearing on November 6, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Jeffrey F. Tittelfitz, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On December 12} 2014, the ALJ issued unfavorable decisions.[1]The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decisions became the final decisions of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

         Plaintiff was born in 1988, and was 21 years old on the alleged onset of disability date, and 26 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff has a high school education and completed cosmetology school, has past no relevant work, and has worked part-time in a fast food restaurant and as a cashier at a craft store. Tr. 68, 291, 306.

         THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         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, 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Valentine v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can do other work that exists in the national economy. Hill v. Astrite, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements through September 30, 2011. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2009. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and generalized anxiety disorder. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairments, or combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.

         The ALJ assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of light work with additional limitations:

[Plaintiff] is further limited to tasks involving no more than frequent climbing of ramps or stairs, and no more than occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She is limited to no more than occasional exposure to workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. She can perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work, as defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). She is limited to goal-oriented work, such as office cleaning work, but she is unable to perform production rate pace work, such as assembly line work. She can tolerate occasional interaction with supervisors, but only superficial interaction with co-workers in the public (superficial defined as casual or perfunctory).

Tr. 22.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ found that considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform, such as small products assembler, electronics worker, and garment sorter. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from September 1, 2009 through the date of the decision.

         ISSUES ON REVIEW

         On appeal to this Court, Plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated her testimony; and (2) the ALJ failed to account for all of her social limitations in the hypothetical to the Vocational Expert ("VE") and RFC determination, resulting in an error at step five. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of legal error. Alternatively, the Commissioner contends that even if the ALJ erred, Plaintiff has not demonstrated harmful error.

         STANDARD ...


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