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Ladely v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

May 23, 2018

NANCY K. LADELY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SULLIVAN, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Nancy K. Ladely brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”). The Commissioner denied plaintiff Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on May 7, 2013, claiming disability beginning August 22, 2011, later amended to April 1, 2013. Tr. 142-48, 158.[1] Her claim was denied initially on September 12, 2013, and upon reconsideration on February 24, 2014. Tr. 61-62, 91-95. A hearing was held July 2, 2015, in Portland, Oregon, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Vadim Mozyrsky. Tr. 37-60. Plaintiff testified, represented by counsel; a vocational expert (“VE”), Gary Kesky, also testified. Id. On October 9, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled under the Act and denying benefits. Tr. 17-30. Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review, which was denied March 15, 2017. Tr. 1-13. Plaintiff then sought review before this Court.[2]

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Born in 1976, plaintiff has a master's degree in biopsychology. Tr. 44, 142. Plaintiff suffers from migraine headaches and experiences dizziness, as well as gastritis. Tr. 44-45, 391, 626. Plaintiff suffers from bipolar and somatoform disorders, and anxiety and depression, and exhibits histrionic and borderline personality traits. Tr. 319, 331, 386, 553, 695, 794.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Burden of Proof and Evidentiary Requirements

         The 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. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotation omitted). The court must weigh “both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). “Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's.” Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005) (holding that the court “must uphold the ALJ's decision where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation”). “[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted). The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected . . . to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         B. Five-Step Sequential Process

         The Commissioner has established a five-step process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity”; if so, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(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), 416.920(c). A severe impairment is one “which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities[.]” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) & 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment meets or equals “one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.” Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the analysis proceeds. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At this point, the ALJ must evaluate medical and other evidence to determine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (“RFC”). This is an assessment of work-related activities that the claimant can perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(b)-(c), 416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). At the fourth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform “past relevant work.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, he is not disabled; if he cannot, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 142; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ found that plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016. Tr. 19. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged disability onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of migraine headaches, gastritis, vertigo, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and somatization. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination thereof that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Id. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, with certain physical limitations, limited to simple routine and repetitive tasks with simple work-related decisions, and only incidental contact with the general public and occasional contact with coworkers. Tr. 21. In so finding, the ALJ gave “limited weight” to the opinions of treating psychiatrist Charles Kuttner, M.D. Tr. 26. At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform past relevant work. Tr. 28. At step five, the ALJ ...


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