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Martinez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 12, 2018

JENNIFER MARTINEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. MCSHANE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jennifer Martinez brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Supplemental for Title II disability insurance benefits (DIB) and Title XVI supplemental security income (SSI). The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         Because the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on February 4, 2013, alleging disability onset on January 2, 2012. Tr. 18. Both applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. A hearing was held on November 2, 2015. On December 3, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 18-32. The Appeals Council denied the request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r for Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “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.'” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).

         The Commissioner's findings are upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record; if evidence exists to support more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193; Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1034-35 (9th Cir. 2000) (when evidence can rationally be interpreted in more than one way, the court must uphold the Commissioner's decision). A reviewing court, however, “cannot affirm the Commissioner's decision on a ground that the Administration did not invoke in making its decision.” Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). 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 error is harmful normally falls upon the party attacking the agency's determination.” Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409 (2009).

         The ALJ need not discuss all evidence presented, but must explain why significant probative evidence has been rejected. Stark v. Shalala, 886 F.Supp. 733, 735 (D. Or. 1995). See also Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1012 (9th Cir. 2003) (in interpreting the evidence and developing the record, the ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence).

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         The Social Security Administration uses a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. Id.

         At step one of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) since the alleged onset date. Tr. 20. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, obesity, bipolar disorder, diabetes mellitus, fibromyalgia, anxiety disorder not otherwise specified, and depressive disorder not otherwise specified. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Between steps three and four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as carry 10 pound occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk for about two hours in an eight-hour workday and can sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday. Plaintiff can perform work that does not require her to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps or stairs. Plaintiff can perform simple routine, repetitive tasks. Tr. 23.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work because of her RFC's non-exertional limitations. Tr. 30. The ALJ then determined that there were jobs that Plaintiff was capable of performing that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, specifically ...


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