United States District Court, D. Oregon
E. Haapala, Jr., Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, Sarah L. Martin, Special
Assistant United States Attorney, Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, District Judge
M. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Because the Commissioner's decision
was based on the proper legal standards and the findings were
supported by substantial evidence, the decision is AFFIRMED.
District Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings
are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Molina v. Astrue, 673 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th
Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion” and is more than a “mere
scintilla” of the evidence but less than a
preponderance. Id. at 1110-11 (quotation omitted).
The Court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they
“are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the
record[, ]” even if the evidence is susceptible to
multiple rational interpretations. Id. at 1110. The
Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “[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).
filed his application for DIB on April 11, 2014, alleging
disability as of February 28, 2013. AR 66. The claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff
timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which was held on November 3, 2016. AR
34-65. After the hearing, ALJ Elizabeth Watson issued an
adverse decision dated January 4, 2017, finding Plaintiff not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”). AR 13-26. The decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council
denied review. AR 1-3. Plaintiff now seeks review in this
August 1961, Plaintiff was 51 years old on the alleged
disability onset date and 56 years old at the time of the
administrative hearing. AR 80. He attended school through the
ninth grade, and apparently earned his GED while he served in
the military. AR 35. Plaintiff alleges disability due to:
herniated discs, degenerative spine, bipolar disorder,
attention deficit disorder, vision impairment, drug and
alcohol addiction, and heart problems. AR 70.
The Sequential Analysis
claimant is disabled if he or she is 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. §
432(d)(1)(A). “Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act.” Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is
potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
five-step sequential process asks the following series of
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). This
activity is work involving significant mental or physical
duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1510. If the claimant is performing such
work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe”
under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An impairment or combination of
impairments is “severe” if it significantly
limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). Unless
expected to result in death, this impairment must have lasted
or be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12
months. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. If the claimant does not
have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the
listed impairments, the analysis continues. At that point,
the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to
assess and determine the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”). This is an
assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may
still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(b)-(c). After the ALJ
determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to
4. Can the claimant perform his or her “past relevant
work” with this RFC assessment? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her
past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.920(a)(4)(v), 404.1560(c). If the
claimant cannot perform such work, he or she is disabled.
See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954
(9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 953; see alsoTackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999);
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41. The Commissioner bears
the burden of proof at step five. Tackett, 180 F.3d
at 1100. At step five, the Commissioner must show that the
claimant can perform other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, “taking into
consideration the claimant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and work experience.”
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566
(describing “work which exists in the national
economy”). If the Commissioner fails to meet this
burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner ...