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Rhodes v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 23, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Michael J. McShane United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Eileen Rhodes seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Commissioner found that Rhodes was not disabled according to the Social Security Act. This 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 their findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff filed her SSI application on May 10, 2013, claiming a disability onset date of June 1, 1999. Tr. 11. The claim was denied initially, and upon reconsideration. Tr. 88-104. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on March 3, 2015 (Tr. 32), and on April 13, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim (Tr. 8-26). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Rhodes's request for a review of the ALJ's decision on July 29, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 454-456. This appeal followed.


         The Commissioner's decision will be affirmed if her decision meets all the legal requirements and her legal conclusions are supported by substantial evidence within 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)). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which weakens the Commissioner's decision. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).

         The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner's if an analysis of the evidence on the record as a whole can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the commissioner's decision. Messmer v. Colvin, 2016 WL 53397278 at *1 (D. Or. Sept.23, 2016). However, a reviewing court can only affirm the Commissioner's decision on grounds that the Commissioner considered when making its decision. Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006).

         A court will set aside a decision supported by substantial evidence if the Commissioner's decision is not free of legal error. Robbins v. Social Sec. Admin. 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). However, an error that is harmless is not sufficient to reverse an ALJ's decision. Stout, 454 F.3d 1050, 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 is not required to discuss all the evidence presented, but must explain why any evidence of significant probative value has been rejected. Stark v. Shalala, 886 F.Supp. 733, 735 (D. Or. 1995).


         According to the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if she is unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to a physical or mental impairment that is medically determinable. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must be such that it is expected to result in death, or an impairment that has lasted or could last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. Id. When determining whether an individual is disabled, the Social Security Administration applies a five step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The burden of proof for the first four steps lies with the claimant and if she meets her burden at each of those steps, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id.

         Here, at step one, the ALJ determined that Rhodes did not engage in any SGA since April 23, 2013, the application date. Tr. 13. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Rhodes had the following severe impairments: sacroiliitis, irritable bowel syndrome, myofascial pain/fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, cannabis dependency, history of polysubstance abuse, cognitive disorder NOS, PTSD, panic disorder and history of possible cerebrovascular accident in 1999. Id. The ALJ found moderate difficulties in social functioning and concentration, persistence or pace. Tr. 15.

         At step three, the ALJ found that none of Rhodes' impairments individually or combined met or medically equaled the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Subsequently, the ALJ found that Rhodes had the residual function capacity to perform light work and is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine and repetitive tasks with occasional public and coworker contact; and should avoid all workplace hazards due to ongoing marijuana dependence. Tr. 16. At step four and five, the ALJ found that Rhodes has no past relevant work, but retains the ability to work as a photocopy machine operator, a mail clerk and an office helper. Tr. 21-22.

         Rhodes argues that the ALJ's decision to deny her SSI claim was erroneous as a matter of law and was not based on substantial evidence for a number of reasons. Pl.'s Br. 1-2, ECF No. 17. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in (1) failing to credit the opinion of Dr. Alvord, the examining psychologist, (2) failing to give to clear and convincing reasons for rejecting plaintiff's testimony, and (3) failing ...

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