United States District Court, D. Oregon
STEVEN E. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
Katherine L. Eitenmiller Mark A. Manning Harder, Wells, Baron
& Manning, P.C. Attorneys for Plaintiff
J. Williams Janice E. Hebert U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Oregon Lars J. Nelson Social Security
Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ United States District Judge
Steven Johnson brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying his 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
was free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence
in the record, it is affirmed and this case is dismissed.
was born on July 16, 1969, and was forty-three years old on
the date that his application for benefits was filed. Tr.
Plaintiff has a high school education and no past relevant
work experience. Id. Plaintiff filed his application
for SSI on February 19, 2013, alleging a disability onset
date of March 12, 2000. Tr. 10. His claim was initially
denied on June 24, 2013, and on reconsideration on December
31, 2013. Id. An administrative hearing was held on
January 28, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Elizabeth Watson. Id. Plaintiff
appeared in person in North Bend and ALJ Watson presided over
the hearing from Eugene by video. Id. ALJ Watson
issued a written opinion denying Plaintiff's application
on March 11, 2015. Tr. 25. The Appeals Council denied
reconsideration of Plaintiff's application, making the
ALJ's opinion the Commissioner's final decision that
Plaintiff now challenges in this Court. Tr. 1-6.
to filing Plaintiff's application currently before the
Court, Plaintiff received benefits for a period of time. In
March of 2000, Plaintiff's home was broken into and he
was shot four times: three times in the body and once in the
head. Tr. 430. As a result of the injuries that he suffered,
Plaintiff received benefits from March 12, 2000, through
September 22, 2009. Tr. 10. Plaintiff appealed the cessation
of his benefits and on September 29, 2011, an ALJ denied that
appeal. Tr. 106-16. Therefore “[a]ny discussion of the
period prior to September 29, 2011, is for background
purposes only and is not an implied reopening.” Tr. 10.
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 ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in SGA
since February 19, 2013. Tr. 12.
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following
history of gunshot wounds, post-concussion syndrome,
headache, chronic rhino sinusitis, cervical degenerative disc
disease, lumbar degenerative disc disease, De Quervain's
tendonitis, right knee medical meniscus tear and bursitis,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”),
posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), cognitive
disorder, and affective disorder[.]
Id. The ALJ also determined that several of
Plaintiff's impairments were not severe, including his:
alcohol abuse; obesity; cannabis abuse; hypertension; left
knee arthroscopy for a meniscus tear; and bilateral carpel
tunnel syndrome. Tr. 13-14 Regarding Plaintiff's carpel
tunnel syndrome, the ALJ concluded that it was not severe for
the required twelve-month period based on Plaintiff's
history of improvement with conservative treatment, gaps in
treatment history, denial of weakness or loss of functioning,
positive strength and reflex test results, successful
surgery, and the fact that some of the condition's
symptoms were accounted for in his De Quervain's
tendonitis diagnosis. Tr. 13.
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. 14.
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
light work with the following limitations:
[T]he claimant can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten
pounds frequently; and sit, stand, and/or walk for six hours
in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant is
limited to no more than occasional climbing of ramps, stairs,
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant is limited to no
more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, and
crawling. He is limited to no more than occasional bilateral
overhead reaching. With the right, he is limited to no more
than frequent handling. The claimant must avoid concentrated
exposure to noise. The claimant must avoid concentrated
exposure to fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poorly ...