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Page v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

April 18, 2018

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


          MICHAEL W. MOSMON Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff June Amorosa Page challenges the Commissioner's decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits. I have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision. For the reasons stated below I AFFIRM the ALJ's decision.


         Ms. Page filed her first application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits on February 20, 2014, alleging disability beginning January 1, 1993. This application received an unfavorable initial review on March 8, 2014. Instead of appealing, Ms. Page filed a new application for benefits on April 1, 2014. The Commissioner denied the application initially on May 9, 2014, and on reconsideration on July 14, 2014. Ms. Page filed a timely request for a hearing on July 31, 2014. An ALJ held a hearing on May 3, 2016. Although the ALJ informed her of her right to representation, Ms. Page appeared and testified without the assistance of an attorney or other representative. The ALJ issued a decision on August 3, 2016, denying Ms. Page's application on the basis that she was not under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, at any time from January 1, 1993, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 1998, her date last insured. In February 2017, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Page's request for review, making the decision to deny benefits the Commissioner's final decision.


         The ALJ made his decision based upon step one of the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (establishing the five-step evaluative process for SSI claims).

         At Step One, the ALJ determined that Ms. Page engaged in substantial gainful activity in the period 2000-2003, after her date last insured of September 30, 1998. Because the ALJ found Ms. Page to have performed substantial gainful activity after her insured status for disability income benefits had expired, he could not find her disabled for the period while she was still insured. Accordingly, the ALJ ended his analysis at step one.


         I review the ALJ's decision to ensure the ALJ applied proper legal standards and that the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Bray v. Comm > of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (explaining that the ALJ's decision must be supported by substantial evidence and not based on legal error). '"Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Astrne, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). A judge must uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is a rational interpretation of the evidence, even if there are other possible rational interpretations. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.


         The overriding issue Ms. Page raises in her briefing is that the denial of her application for disability income benefits because she attempted to go back to work is not fair and that she is being punished for attempting to return to work. Ms. Page also raises five specific claims of error: (1) the ALJ abused his discretion when he found that she engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) the ALJ erred when he declined to discuss the statements from Ms. Page's family, friends, administrative assistant, and treating Naturopath; (3) the ALJ gave Ms. Page no choice but to go forward with her hearing without an attorney or other representative; (4) the ALJ erred in finding she did not have sufficient quarters of coverage to extend her date last insured; and (5) the Appeals Council improperly declined to review the ALJ's decision. Despite these claims of error, I find substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's decision.

         I. The ALJ's Finding that Ms. Page Engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity.

         Ms. Page argues substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's determination that she engaged in substantial gainful activity between 2000 and 2003[1]when she worked as a senior engineer because she only returned to work intermittently from spring 1999 through the fall of 2003. Ms. Page claims that when she was working she often had accommodations. "The concept of substantial gainful activity involves the amount of compensation and the substantiality and gainfulness of the activity itself. Keyes v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1053, 1056 (9th Cir. 1990) (citing 20 C.F.R. 404.1532(b)). While not dispositive, earnings over the amount specified in the guidelines create the presumption of substantial gainful employment. Id. An applicant can rebut a presumption based on earnings with evidence of her "inability to perform the job well, without special assistance, or for only brief periods of time." Id.

         Here, Ms. Page earned well over the amount specified in the guidelines, this creating the presumption that she engaged in substantial gainful activity. The guidelines presume substantial work activity for a non-blind individual earning over $700 a month in 2000, over $740 a month in 2001, over $780 a month in 2002, and over $800 a month in 2003. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1574; (listing monthly earnings presumptive of substantial gainful activity) (last visited March 12, 2018). Ms. Page earned at least $3, 000 a month from 2000 to 2003: $45, 304.82 in 2000, $54, 128.76 in 2001, and $28, 881 in 2003 before ...

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