United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division
EVAN R. AUSTIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
E. Jones United States District Judge.
District Judge, Plaintiff Evan Austin appeals the
Commissioner's decision denying his concurrent
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act. The court has jurisdiction under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). IAFFIRM the Commissioner's
alleged disability beginning April 2, 2009, due to pain in
the back, degenerative disc disease and hearing problems.
Admin. R. 23, 268, 277, 313, 341. He satisfied the insured
status requirements of the Social Security Act through
September 30, 2014. Admin. R. 224. He must establish that he
became disabled on or before that date to prevail on his
Title II claim. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A). Tidwell v.
Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1998).
applied the sequential disability determination process
described in 20 C.F.R. sections 404.1520 and 416.920. See
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). That ALJ
issued an adverse decision, but the Appeals Council remanded
with instructions to obtain additional evidence and conduct
further proceedings. Admin. R. 158-177.
remand, a second ALJ also applied the correct regulatory
disability determination process. The ALJ found Austin's
ability to perform basic work activities adversely affected
by degenerative disc disease in the lumbar region of the
spine, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome status post left
carpal tunnel release, and left ulnar neuropathy status post
left ulnar nerve transposition. Admin. R. 26. The ALJ found
that, despite these impairments, Austin retained the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work
with the option to sit or stand, limited climbing and
postural activities such as stooping, crouching, and so
forth, limited handling and fingering, and no concentrated
exposure to workplace hazards. Admin. R. 27.
vocational expert ("VE") testified that a person
having Austin's age, education, work experience, and RFC
could perform his past relevant work of garage supervisor as
that occupation is generally performed in the national
economy. Admin. R. 32, 62. The VE testified that a person
with Austin's vocational factors and RFC could also
perform the activities required in light, unskilled
occupations such as bagger, table worker, hand packager,
greeter, gate guard, and parking lot cashier, which represent
over two million jobs in the national economy. Admin. R. 33,
63-65. The ALJ concluded that Austin was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. Admin. R. 34.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on proper legal standards and the findings of
fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038
(9th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is relevant evidence
that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support
a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971). Substantial evidence may be less than a
preponderance of the evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Under this
standard, the court must consider the record as a whole, and
uphold the Commissioner's factual findings that are
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence,
even if another interpretation is also rational.
Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882; Batson v. Comm 'r
of Soc. Sec. Admin., 3 59 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir.
2004); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 -40
(9th Cir. 1995).
plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the ALJ erred and
that any error was harmful. McLeod v. Astrue, 640
F.3d 881, 886-87 (9th Cir. 2011). Austin contends the ALJ
improperly discounted his subjective symptoms, the medical
opinions of Anthony Francis, M.D., and Mason Harrison,
F.N.P., and the lay witness statement of his son, Kamryn
Larsen. As a result, Austin contends, the ALJ's RFC
assessment did not accurately reflect all of his functional
limitations. This caused the ALJ to elicit testimony from the
VE based on hypothetical assumptions that did not accurately
reflect his limitations. Austin also contends the ALJ
improperly classified his past relevant work.
Austin alleged disability due to back problems, hearing
problems, and degenerative disc disease. Admin. R. 313. He
described his back problems as lower back pain and numbness
which made it difficult for him to stand, walk, or sit for
extended periods without changing positions every hour or
less. Admin. R. 50, 53, 89-91, 95, 341. Austin also alleged
limitations from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and
neuropathy in the left elbow, for which he underwent surgical
carpal tunnel release and ulnar nerve transposition on the
left side. Admin. R. 50, 91. Austin said he could not squeeze
or pick up anything with his left hand and could not lift
anything larger than a soup can. Admin. R. 50, 54. If he
tried to lift a gallon of milk, the ...