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Johaningmeier v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

January 11, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant,



         Deborah Elaine Johaningmeier ("plaintiff) seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, his decision is AFFIRMED and this case DISMISSED.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on October 17, 2012, alleging disability as of January 1, 2010. (Tr. 22, 21145.) The Commissioner denied her application initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 91-102, 103-13, 126-27.) An administrative hearing was held on December 22, 2014. (Tr. 37-78). A supplemental hearing was held on June 1, 2015. (Tr. 79-90.) After the hearings, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 10, 2015, finding plaintiff not disabled. (Tr, 19-36.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiff s subsequent request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. (Tr. 1 -7.)

         Factual Background

         Bora on August 27, 1956, plaintiff was 53 years old on the alleged onset date of disability and 58 years old at the time of the initial hearing. (Tr. 42, 92, 103.) She speaks English, completed a year of college, and vocational college for phlebotomy. (Tr. 42-43, 227, 229.) Plaintiff alleges disability due to migraines, insomnia, depression, interstitial cystitis, high blood pressure, arthritis, ischemic colitis, asthma, and hypothyroidism. (Tr. 49-51, 92, 103.)

         Standard of Review

         The 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, Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F, 2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It 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 quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions, " Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986), "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the 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 person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.[1] First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520©. If the claimant does not have a medically determinable, severe impairment, he is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can work, he is not disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F, R. § 404.1566.

         The ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ performed the sequential analysis. At step one of the five-step process outlined above, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 24.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: interstitial cystitis, [2] osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, mild left shoulder rotator cuff tendonitis, and mild degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 24-25.) At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 25.)

         The ALJ next assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC") and found that plaintiff has the RFC to

perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). She can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and can stand and/or walk 6 of 8 hours. She can occasionally climb and frequently stoop, kneel and crouch. She should not be required to engage in overhead reaching with the left upper extremity on more than an occasional basis.

(Tr. 25-30.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a phlebotomist. (Tr. 30.) The ALJ therefore concluded plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.) The ALJ did not ...

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