United States District Court, D. Oregon
R. COHEN Attorney for Plaintiff
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney, RENATA GOWIE Assistant
United States Attorney
MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel, ERIN F.
HIGHLAND Special Assistant United States Attorney Social
Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
J. BROWN United States Senior District Judge
Tina Pierce seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA)
in which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the
Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has
jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the
decision of the Commissioner and DISMISSES
protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI benefits
on July 11, 2013. Tr. 11. Plaintiff alleges a disability onset
date of October 22, 2011. Tr. 11. Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. An
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on November 17,
2015. Tr. 11, 37-64. Plaintiff, a vocational expert (VE), and
a medical expert testified. Plaintiff was represented by an
attorney at the hearing.
December 16, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he
found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not
entitled to benefits. Tr. 11-22. Plaintiff requested review
by the Appeals Council. On April 13, 2017, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the
ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-4. See Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking
review of the Commissioner's decision.
was born on September 18, 1966. Tr. 20. Plaintiff was
forty-five years old on the alleged disability onset date.
Tr. 20. Plaintiff has limited education. Tr. 20. The ALJ
found Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a
caregiver and shipping-receiving clerk. Tr. 20.
alleges disability due to arthritis, “trapped
nerves” in her shoulders, bulging disk in her neck,
bone spurs, degenerative disc disease, chronic pain, panic
attacks, and depression. Tr. 87, 129.
as noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary
of the medical evidence. After carefully reviewing the
medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of
the medical evidence. See Tr. 14-19
initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish
disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110
(9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must
demonstrate her inability “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). The ALJ must
develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when
the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of
the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885
(9th Cir. 2011)(quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d
453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)).
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012).
Substantial evidence is “relevant evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Molina, 674 F.3d. at
1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more
than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but less than a
preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574
F.3d at 690).
is responsible for evaluating a claimant's testimony,
resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving
ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591
(9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence
whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's
decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d
1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.
Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir.
2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d
1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).
The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation
One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity (SGA). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I),
416.920(a)(4)(I). See also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).
Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant does not have any medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.
Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines
the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the
listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). See
also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the
listed impairments, known as Listings, are enumerated in 20
C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (Listed Impairments).
Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The
claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained,
work-related physical and mental activities the claimant can
still do on a regular and continuing basis despite her
limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
See also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p.
“A ‘regular and continuing basis' means 8
hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent
schedule.” SSR 96-8p, at *1. In other words, the Social
Security Act does not require complete incapacity to be
disabled. Taylor v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin.,
659 F.3d 1228, 1234-35 (9th Cir. 2011)(citing Fair v.
Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir. 1989)).
Four the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner
determines the claimant retains the RFC to perform work she
has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. §§