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Nelson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 1, 2018

YVONNE C. NELSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOLIE A. RUSSO, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Yvonne C. Nelson seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See (doc. 12). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED and this case is DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         Born in December 1947, plaintiff applied for DIB in October 2010, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2002, with a date last insured of December 31, 2007. Tr. 53.[1] She completed high school, some college, and has past relevant work as a service order dispatcher. Tr. 38, 104, 805. Plaintiff alleged disability based upon: "[chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], congestive heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, chronic sinusitis, [high blood pressure], thyroid, gout, edema, chronic back pain, bleeding ulcer, and depression." Tr. 53, 171. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 52-75. On October 31, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled, which the Appeals Council declined to review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-6, 877-86. Plaintiff sought judicial review in this Court. Tr. 843-65; see also Nelson v. Colvin, No. 3:14-cv-00914-HZ, 2015 WL 3606386 (D. Or. June 4, 2015) ("Nelson I"). Upon review, Judge Hernandez reversed and remanded the case finding the ALJ's evaluation of plaintiffs subjective symptom testimony was not supported by substantial evidence, although he otherwise affirmed the ALJ's decision. Tr. 852-64; Nelson I, at *3-10. On March 1, 2016, the ALJ held a second administrative hearing, and on March 21, 2016, he again issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 795-806, 813-42. Plaintiff sought review in this Court.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         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 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. First, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckeit, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, she 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(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, she is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either individually 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, she is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, she is not disabled; if she cannot, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.

         At step five, the Commissioner must establish 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, as noted above. At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date through her date last insured. Tr. 797. At step two, the ALJ determined the following impairments were medically determinable and severe: "osteoarthritis, coronary artery disease, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, duodenal ulcer, hypothyroidism, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and chronic back pain." Id. At step three, the ALJ determined plaintiffs impairments, neither individually nor in combination, met or equaled the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 800.

         Because he did not establish presumptive disability at step three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiffs impairments affected her ability to work. The ALJ resolved plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform modified sedentary work with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] must avoid concentrated exposure to heat, cold, wet environments, and concentrated exposure to noxious fumes and odors. She should not have fingered ...

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