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Stephen E.J. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 13, 2018

Stephen E.J. Plaintiff, [1]
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, [2] Defendant

          JOHN E. HAAPALA, JR. Attorney for Plaintiff.

          BILLY J. WILLIAM United States Attorney, RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney, MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel, RYAN LU Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration, Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Stephen E. J. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner and DISMISSES this matter.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed his initial application for DIB benefits on January 6, 2012. Tr. 152.[3] Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of November 19, 2007. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on November 13, 2013. Tr. 57-110. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

         On December 5, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled for the period of November 2007 through March 2013 and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 152-60.

         On December 26, 2013, Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. Tr. 234-36.

         On May 7, 2015, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision on the ground that the ALJ had incorrectly determined the final date for Plaintiff's insured status. The Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ to reassess Plaintiff's claim based on the correct disability period of November 19, 2007, to September 30, 2014. The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to obtain additional evidence concerning the Plaintiff's impairment in order to complete the administrative record; to consider the evidence or record through the relevant period at issue; to “offer” the Plaintiff an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing; and to issue a new decision. Tr. 169-70.

         On November 5, 2015, the ALJ held another hearing. Tr. 34-55. Plaintiff testified and was represented by an attorney.

         On January 8, 2016, the ALJ issued a second opinion in which he again found Plaintiff was not disabled for the period of November 2007 through September 2014 and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 16-25.

         On January 11, 2016, Plaintiff again requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. Tr. 11-12. On April 7, 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. 1-3. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         On June 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on August 28, 1960. Tr. 24. Plaintiff was 54 years old on the date he was last insured. Tr. 24. Plaintiff has a high-school education. Tr. 24. The ALJ found Plaintiff has past relevant work as an HVAC installer. Tr. 24.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to a right-knee injury, ruptures in his neck, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with disc herniation, obesity, and two hernias with radial myopathy. Tr. 218.

         Except 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. 35-42.

         STANDARDS

         The 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 his 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 ...


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