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Boyd v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 30, 2017




         Plaintiff Karen Marie Boyd seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") 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 decision.


         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB and SSI applications on March 2, 2011, alleging disability beginning September 5, 2008, due to intestinal, back and leg problems; headaches; nausea; and dizziness. Tr. Soc. Sec. Admin. R. ("Tr.") 19, 61, ECF No. 21. 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 July 25, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified.[1] A vocational expert, Gary R. Jesky, also appeared at the hearing and testified. On August 5, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. 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 1964, and was 44 years old on the alleged onset of disability date, and 49 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff completed ninth grade, did not obtain a GED, has no vocational training, but can read, write, add, and subtract. Tr. 36. Plaintiff has worked as a supply clerk and delivery driver. Tr. 68, 291, 306. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements through December 31, 2013.


         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowenv. Yuckert, 4&2U.S. 137, 140(1987);20C.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. Astrtie, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).

         At step one, the AL J found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5, 2008. The ALJ resolved the sequential evaluation at step two, finding that there are no medical signs or laboratory findings to substantiate the existence of a severe medically determinable impairment. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from September 5, 2008 through the date of the decision.


         Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, contends the ALJ erred in finding that she has no severe medically determinable impairments at step two and erred in evaluating treatment notes from Mummadi Rajasekhara, M.D.; Latha Radhakrishnan, M.D.; Kevin P. Jones, D.O.; and Alan Savoy, M.D.[2] 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.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "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, 698 F.3d at 1159 (internal quotations omitted); Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690. The court must weigh all the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Garrisonv. Colvin, 759F.3d995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014); Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's decision must be upheld, even if the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Batson v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin. , 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If the evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusion, the Commissioner must be affirmed; "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edhmdv. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001); Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1010.

         I. The ALJ Did Not Err at Step Two

         A. Standards

         At step two of the sequential process, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant suffers from a "severe" impairment, /. e., one that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). To show a severe medically determinable impairment, the claimant must first prove the existence of a physical or mental impairment by providing medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings; the claimant's own statement of symptoms alone will not suffice. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1508, 416.908. A medically determinable impairment is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by ...

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