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Reese v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

February 27, 2018

CHAD MICHAEL REESE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Jeremy L. Bordelon Evergreen Disability Law Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Billy Williams United States Attorney Renata Gowie Assistant United States Attorney

          Sarah Elizabeth Moum Special Assistant United States Attorney Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Chad Michael Reese brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). The issues before the Court are whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1) improperly discrediting Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony, and (2) improperly discrediting the opinions of Plaintiff's therapists, Nicole Fricano, MA, QMHP; and Brittany Neighbours, MA, QMHP. I affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on March 29, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of January 18, 2012. Tr. 9, 28, 132. 141.[1] Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 9, 77-80, 83-85. Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on April 1, 2015, before ALJ Rudolph Murgo. Tr. 26. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim in a written decision issued on October 1, 2015. Tr. 9-21. The Appeals Council denied review, rendering the ALJ's decision final. Tr. 1-3.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is disabled if he is unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines 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 not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's impairments, 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 141; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant 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. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 18, 2012. Tr. 11.

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia. Tr. 11-13.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 13-14.

         Before step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at all exertional levels with the following non-exertional limitations: “[Plaintiff] is limited to low stress work typical of jobs with specific vocational and preparation (SVP) ratings of 1 or 2. He can also have no public contact.” Tr. 14-20.

         At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as a warehouse clean-up worker. Tr. 20-21. Accordingly, the ...


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