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Fittje v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 9, 2018

TERRY J. FITTJE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Terry J. Fittje brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiffs application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB").[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


         On July 18, 2006, plaintiff Terry J. Fittje applied for DIB. Tr. 171-75. She alleged disability beginning on March 31, 2005, due to diabetes, angina, depression, and ADHD. Tr. 89, 179-80.[2] Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 88-105, Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found plaintiff not disabled on September 23, 2011. Tr. 9-26. The Appeals Council denied review, and plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-6.

         On September 4, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon issued an opinion reversing the ALJ's decision and remanding the case for further proceedings. Tr. 736-46. A second ALJ hearing was held on February 4, 2016. Tr. 631-46. On June 24, 2016, the ALJ issued a second decision finding plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 608-30. On April 25, 2017, Richard McGinty, filed an Unopposed Motion to Withdraw as Attorney of Record, which was granted on April 26, 2017. E.C.F. Docket No. 13, 16. Plaintiff filed a subsequent complaint in this court on June 26, 2017. E.C.F. Docket No. 20.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based upon 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." Gutierrez v. Comm'r Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v. Massanar, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir, 2001). If the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edhind v. MassanarU 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         The initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F, 2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the plaintiff 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 person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the alleged onset date of December 1, 2007, through her date last insured of March 31, 2010.[3] Tr. 614; 20 C.F.R. § 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "coronary artery disease, degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, diabetes mellitus II, morbid obesity, asthma, caipal tunnel syndrome status post surgery, depression, ADHD/learning disorder, and substance abuse." Tr, 614; 20 C.F.R. § 4O4, l52O(a)(4)(ii), (c). At step three, the ALJ determined plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or in combination, did not meet or equal "one of the listed impairments" that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr. 614-16; 20 C.F.R. § 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ found plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 C[.F.R. §] 404.1567(b) except the claimant can lift and cany 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. The claimant can stand or walk 2 out of eight hours and sit for up to 8 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant can no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs and can never climb scaffolds, ropes, or ladders. The claimant can no more than occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can have no more than occasional exposure to respiratory irritants, such as dust, odors, fumes, and gasses. The claimant also must avoid exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. The claimant can do not (sic) work that involves using her upper extremities for repetitive tasks. The claimant can remember, understand, and carry out tasks and instructions consistent with occupations at the SVP 1 or 2 levels. The claimant learns best by demonstration versus written instruction.

Tr. 616-22; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. 622; 20 C.F.R. § 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iv), (f).

         At step five, the ALJ found plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as an electronics worker, small products assembler, or mail clerk. Tr. 622-23; 20 C.F.R. § 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(v), (g)(1). Accordingly, the ALJ ...

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