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Bandrup v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 4, 2018

JENNIFER DAWN BANDRUP, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          ANN AIKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jennifer Dawn Bandrup seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying disability and disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on July 2, 2012. Tr. 15. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning December 31, 2009. Id. Her application was denied initially and upon review. Id. Plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") at a hearing held November 6, 2014. Id. On January 7, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 28. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr, 3. This pro se appeal followed.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is disabled if he or 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). "Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." Keyser v. Comm V, 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).

The five-steps are: (1) Is the claimant presently working in a substantially gainful activity? (2) Is the claimant's impairment severe? (3) Does the impairment meet or equal one of a list of specific impairments described in the regulations? (4) Is the claimant able to perform any work that he or she has done in the past? and (5) Are there significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform?

Id. at 724-25; see also Bustamcmte v. Massanavi, 262 F.3d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Bustamcmte, 262 F.3d at 953, The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. At step five, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, "taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404, 1566; 416.966 (describing "work which exists in the national economy"). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustainante, 262 F.3d at 953-54.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         The ALJ performed the sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of December 31, 2009, Tr. 17. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity; affective disorder (bipolar); anxiety disorder; autoimmune disorder; mild degenerative joint disease bilaterally in the knees; hepatitis C; and hypertension. Id. The ALJ determined that Plaintiffs severe impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Tr. 18.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work with the following additional restrictions: she can perform frequent but not constant climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, kneeling, and crouching; she must avoid concentrated exposure to non-weather related extremes of cold and heat; and she can perform work that requires no more than frequent interaction with coworkers. Tr. 19-20.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a computer support technician, as a graphics designer, or as a receptionist. Tr. 27. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 27-28, STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C, § 405(g); Batson v. Comm V, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence "means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In reviewing the Commissioner's alleged errors, this court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's inteipretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

         When the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one rational interpretation, we must defer to the ALJ's conclusion. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1198 (citing Andrews v. Shalala,53 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 1995)). A reviewing court, however, cannot affirm the Commissioner's decision on a ground that the agency did not invoke in making its decision. Stout v. Comm'r,454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006). Finally, a court may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless. Id. at 1055-56. "[T]he burden of showing that an ...


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