United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE PAUL PAPAK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tina Marie Matula filed this action on September 3, 2016,
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision denying her application for
supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). ECF No.
1. This court has jurisdiction over Matula's action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). All
parties have consented to a Magistrate Judge in accordance
with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). I have
considered all of the parties' briefing and the relevant
evidence in the administrative record. For the reasons set
forth below, the Commissioner's final decision is
AFFIRMED and this case is DISMISSED.
establish disability within the meaning of the Act, a
claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected ... to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a claimant has made the requisite
demonstration. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
140 (1987); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
At the first four steps of the process, the burden of proof
is on the claimant; only at the fifth and final step does the
burden of proof shift to the Commissioner. See Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
first step, an administrative law judge ("ALJ")
considers the claimant's work activity, if any. See
Bowen, 482 U.S. at 140; see also 20 C.F.R.
§416.920(a)(4)(i). If the ALJ finds that the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claimant will be
found not disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 140;
see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i),
416.920(b). Otherwise, the evaluation proceeds to the second
second step, the ALJ considers the medical severity of the
claimant's impairments. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at
140-41; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(h).
An impairment is "severe" if it significantly
limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work
activities and is expected to persist for a period of twelve
months or longer. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141;
see also 20 C.F.R. §416.920(c). The ability to
perform basic work activities is defined as "the
abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." 20
C.F.R. §416.921(b); see also Bowen, 482 U.S. at
141. If the ALJ finds that the claimant's impairments are
not severe or do not meet the duration requirement, the
claimant will be found not disabled. See Bowen, 482
U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c). Nevertheless, it is well
established that "the step-two inquiry is a de minimis
screening device to dispose of groundless claims."
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996)
(citing Bowen, 482 U.S. at 153-54). "An
impairment or combination of impairments can be found
'not severe' only if the evidence establishes a
slight abnormality that has 'no more than a minimal
effect on an individual's ability to work."'
Id. (quoting SSR 85-28, available at 1985
claimant's impairments are severe, the evaluation will
proceed to the third step, at which the ALJ determines
whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal
"one of a number of listed impairments that the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity." Bowen, 482 U.S.
at 141; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d). If the claimant's
impairments are equivalent to one of the impairments
enumerated in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, the
claimant will conclusively be found disabled. See
Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; we also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d).
claimant's impairments are not equivalent to one of the
enumerated impairments, the ALJ is required to assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC"), based on all the relevant medical and
other evidence in the claimant's case record.
See 20 C.F.R. §416.920(e). The RFC is an
estimate of the claimant's capacity to perform sustained,
work-related, physical and mental activities on a regular and
continuing basis, despite the limitations imposed by the
claimant's impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.945(a). "A 'regular and continuing basis'
means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work
schedule." SSR 96-8p, available at 1996 WL
fourth step, the ALJ considers the RFC in relation to the
claimant's past relevant work. See Bowen, 482
U.S. at 141; see also 20 C.F.R.
§416.920(a)(4)(iv). If, in light of the claimant's
RFC, the ALJ determines that the claimant can still perform
his. or her past relevant work, the claimant will be found
not disabled. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141; see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(f). hi the event the claimant is no longer capable of
performing his or her past relevant work, the evaluation will
proceed to the fifth and final step, at which the burden of
proof is, for the first time, on the Commissioner.
fifth step, the ALJ considers the RFC in relation to the
claimant's age, education, and work experience to
determine whether the claimant can perform any jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. See
Bowen, 482 U.S. at 142; see also 20 C.F.R.
416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g), 416.960(c), 416.966. If the
Commissioner meets her burden to demonstrate that the
claimant is capable of performing jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is
conclusively found not to be disabled. See Bowen,
482 U.S. at 142; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g), 416.960(c), 416.966. A claimant
will be found entitled to benefits if the Commissioner fails
to meet his burden at the fifth step. See id; see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v),
reviewing court must affirm an ALJ's decision if the ALJ
applied proper legal standards and his or her findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Batson v. Comm'r
for Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir.
2004). '"Substantial evidence' means more than a
mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th
court must review the record as a whole, "weighing both
the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts
from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id.
(citing Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th
Cir. 1998)). The court may not substitute its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. See Id. (citing
Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882); see also Edlund v.
Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
Moreover, the court may not rely upon its own independent
findings of fact in determining whether the ALJ's
findings are supported by substantial evidence of record.
See Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir.
1989) (citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194,
196 (1947)). If the ALJ's interpretation of the evidence
is rational, it is immaterial that the evidence may be
"susceptible [of] more than one rational
interpretation." Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (citing Gallant v. Heckler,
753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984)).
OF ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD
September 1980, Matula was 30 years old on her alleged onset
date of April 26, 2011. Tr. 91, 99-100, 112. Matula completed
a GED program in 2010 and has no past relevant work
experience. Tr. 88, 258, 736. On April 29, 2011, Matula filed
a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Tr.
216-26. She alleged disability in her initial application due
to: bipolar disorder, personality disorder, post-traumatic
stress disorder ("PTSD"), and a learning
disability. Tr. 91, 99. After her application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, Matula requested a
hearing before an ALJ. Tr. 30, 91, 100.
The Medical Record
party supplied a summary of the medical record in this case.
Other than generally asserting the post-hearing evidence she
supplied undermines the ALJ's decision, Matula does not
specifically challenge the ALJ's weighing of the medical
evidence of record. Accordingly, after a careful review of
the record and the ALJ's decision, the Court adopts the
ALJ's summary of the medical evidence as supplemented by
the Court's description of the post-hearing evidence
submitted by Matula. See Tr. 36-43; see also
infra at 8-14.
The Administrative Hearing
April 16, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing, at which Matula
testified and was represented by counsel; a vocational expert
("VE") also testified. Tr. 61-90. The ALJ found
that Matula did "not possess past relevant work
experience" and asked the VE to:
assume an individual with the same age, education and work
experience as [Matula] who is further limited to no more than
frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling or climbing.
Please assume this individual would also be limited to no
more than occasional contact with the general public. Would
such an individual be capable of. . . performing any other
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national or
Tr. 87-88. The VE answered in the affirmative and that such
an individual would be able to perform the jobs of:
sweeper/cleaner industrial; packager/hand; and office helper.
15, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Matula not
disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 34-45. The
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on
July 22, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied Manila's
subsequent request for review of the ALJ's decision. Tr.
1-4; see, e.g., Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107
(2000). Matula now appeals to this Court for review of the
Commissioner's final decision. ECF No. 1.
OF ALJ FINDINGS
one of the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
found that Matula had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since ...