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Villanueva v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 4, 2018

ANTONIO VILLANUEVA, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Katherine L. Eitenmiller Brent Wells HARDER, WELLS, BARON & MANNING, P.C. Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Billy J. Williams UNITED STATES ATTORNEY District of Oregon Renata Gowie ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY

          Sarah Moum SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNANDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Antonio Villanueva brings this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny supplemental security income (SSI). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)). I reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for the payment of benefits.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on June 7, 2013, alleging an onset date of February 15, 1991[1]. Tr. 15, 135-42. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 60-69, 84-87 (Initial); Tr. 70-83, 95-97 (Recon.). On July 30, 2015, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 29-59. On September 25, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 12-28. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-5.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges disability based on having a foot injury from birth, chest pain, headaches, abdominal pain, pneumonia, shortness of breath, problems with hands and fingers, problems thinking and paying attention, memory loss, and problems with concentration. Tr. 151, 173, 177. At the time of the hearing, he was twenty-four years old. Tr. 36. He completed ninth grade. Tr. 49-50. He has no past relevant work experience. Tr. 24.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION

         A claimant is disabled if 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), 1382c(3)(a).

         Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         In 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), 416.920(b). In 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), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         In step three, the Commissioner determines whether plaintiff'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), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         In 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), 416.920(e). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In 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), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his 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, 416.966.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 7, 2013, his application date and his amended alleged onset date. Tr. 17. Next, at steps two and three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of anxiety disorder, dysthymic disorder, and rule out borderline intellectual functioning but that the impairments did not meet or equal, either singly or in combination, a listed impairment. Tr. 17-20.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work except he is limited to simple, repetitive, and routine tasks, no more than occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers, and no contact with the general public. Tr. 20. With this RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the economy such as small products assembler, machine feeder, and electronics worker. Tr. 24-25. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled. Tr. 25.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only when the Commissioner's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). "Substantial evidence means 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." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The court considers the record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id.; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be affirmed." Vasquez, 572 F.3d at 591 (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted); see also Massachi v. Astrue, 4 ...


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