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Farmer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 25, 2018

DEBORAH FARMER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ann Aiken, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Deborah Farmer brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied plaintiffs applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 9, 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB. She applied for SSI benefits the following day. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning February 19, 2009, due to depression with anxiety, PTSD, diabetes, obesity, asthma, migraines, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

         Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On May 23, 2014, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued June 19, 2014. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed the present complaint in this Court.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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. Massanari, 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." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

         COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         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. Yackert, 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 disability onset date. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "depression with anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorder; diabetes mellitus; obesity; asthma; gastroesophageal reflux disease; migraine headaches; and polycystic ovarian syndrome." Tr. 12; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 et seq. and 416.921 et seq.

         At step three, the ALJ determined plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that has significantly limited (or is expected to significantly limit) the ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months and therefore does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R, §§ 404.1521 et seq. and 416.921 et seq.

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ then assessed plaintiff residual functional capacity ("RFC") as follows:

If I found the claimant's mental impairment to be severe, the claimant would have the residual function capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonextertional limitations: only occasional, brief, superficial interaction ...

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