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Hughley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 29, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Cathleen Teresa Hughley (“Hughley”), seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) finding her disabled only after she reached age 55 and, therefore, denying portions of her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 USC §§ 1381-83f. This court has jurisdiction under 42 USC § 405(g) and § 1383(c). Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error, it should be affirmed.


         Hughley filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on August 31, 2011, alleging a disability beginning April 2, 2006, due to fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. Tr. 74, 214-15.[2] On September 6, 2011, Hughley also filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Tr. 216-24. Those claims were denied in March 2012, and Hughley, who was not represented by counsel at the time, did not appeal. Tr. 74-105, 143-44. On November 29, 2012, Hughley protectively filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning March 30, 2006, due to bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), diverticulitis, chronic pain, and fatigue. Tr. 107-08, 225-32. After the Commissioner denied Hughley's new SSI application initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 106-34, 153-57, 161-63), Hughley requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on February 6, 2015. Tr. 35-73.

         On March 26, 2015, ALJ S. Andrew Grace issued a decision finding Hughley to be disabled as of March 26, 2013, but not before. Tr. 17-28. Hughley requested, and the Appeals Council denied, review of the ALJ's decision on August 31, 2016. Tr. 1-3. The ALJ's decision is a final decision subject to review by this court. 20 CFR §§ 404.981, 416.1481, 422.210.


         Born in September 1958, Hughley was 47 years old on the alleged onset date. She has a high school education and past work experience as a general office clerk. Tr. 26. Hughley reported that she has always had problems with balance, and in 2001, began using a cane after she slipped and fell on ice, causing her pain in both hips and exacerbating her balance problems. Tr. 886. In September of 2001, Hughley reported increased difficulty balancing and indicated that she had recently fallen several times. Tr. 917-18. In December of 2010, Hughley was again struggling with her balance and reported falling over several times. Tr. 439. In March 2011, Hughley reported “some problems with balance some days.” Tr. 607.

         In a function report from September 2011, Hughley indicated that the most she could lift was five pounds. Tr. 271. In November 2012, Hughley reported that she struggles to lift objects that weigh 10 pounds or more and has difficulty shopping because she can only carry one bag. Tr. 489, 578. Three months later, based on his examination of Hughley, Dr. Ryan Vancura determined that Hughley could lift 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. Tr. 483. In 2015, Dr. Annette Guido, Hughley's treating physician, filled out a report that indicated Hughley was incapable of grasping or lifting anything. Tr. 963.

         Hughley also suffers from a variety of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, bipolar disorder, and PTSD; however she does not challenge the ALJ's findings with regard to those impairments.


         The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 USC § 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998)). The reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner when the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the decision. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Instead, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld if it is “supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted); see also Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035; Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (“Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that must be upheld.”).


         Disability is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 USC § 423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. This sequential analysis is set forth in the Social Security regulations, 20 CFR § 416.920, in Ninth Circuit case law, Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999) (applying 20 CFR § 404.1520), and in the ALJ's decision in this case, Tr. 19-20.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Hughley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after ...

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