United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
LESLIE A. P.,  Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Aiken, United States District Judge
Leslie A. P. brings this action pursuant to the Social
Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of a final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied
plaintiffs application for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
initially filed an application for benefits in January, 2009,
alleging disability beginning January 1, 1993, which was
denied initially on June 4, 2009, and upon reconsideration on
June 18, 2010. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). That hearing was
held on November 9, 2011, and the initial denial was upheld.
The ALJ found that plaintiff was limited to sedentary work
with the need to alternate sitting and standing as necessary.
On May 2, 2013, plaintiff reapplied for SSI. She alleged
disability beginning April 17, 2013, due to scoliosis of the
spine, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, a possible
borderline personality disorder, and depression. Plaintiffs
second SSI application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
ALJ. A hearing was held on November 10, 2015. At the hearing,
plaintiff was represented by an attorney, and a Vocation
Expert ("VE') testified. On December 31, 2015, the
ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs claim for benefits.
After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed the
present complaint before this Court.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based upon proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231
(9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is more than a
mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Gutierrez v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 740 F, 3d 519, 522 (9th Cir.
2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must
weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence
that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes
v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the
evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the
Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner
must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edhind
v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
initial burden of proof rests upon plaintiff to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, plaintiff 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[.]" 42U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step
one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in
"substantial gainful activity" since the
application date, April 17, 2013. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. §§
416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had the following severe impairments as of the
alleged onset Dated: scoliosis of the spine secondary to
fusion surgery in childhood, anxiety, depression,
posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and
adjustment disorder. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); id §§
three, the ALJ determined that plaintiffs impairments,
whether considered singly or in combination, did not 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), (d); id. §§
moving on to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiffs residual
functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e); id § 416.920(e). The ALJ found
that plaintiff could "perform light work as defined in
20 CFR § 416.967(b), except that she can frequently
climb ramps and stairs, and occasionally climb ladders and
scaffolds; she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, or crawl; she can never work at unprotected heights
or be exposed to moving mechanical parts, and can
occasionally be exposed to vibration; she is limited to
performing simple routine tasks, and making simple
work-related decisions; she is limited to occasional
interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the
public." Tr. at 21. At step four, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. 20
C.F.R, §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f); id.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, however,
the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work in the
national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a
garment sorter, photocopying machine operator, or laundry
sorter. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g)(1).
the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied her
applications for benefits.
contends the ALJ committed reversible error at steps three
and five in the five-step analysis. Plaintiff argues that the
ALJ erred in failing to give preclusive effect to the prior
ALJ's finding that plaintiff was limited to sedentary
work with the need to alternate sitting and standing, in
evaluating medical evidence, in evaluating lay witness
testimony, in failing to develop the record regarding
plaintiffs alleged cognitive limitations, in formulating the
RFC, and in meeting her burden of proving that plaintiff
retains the ability to perform work in the national economy.
Preclusive Effect of Prior ALJ's Findings
ALJ's "findings concerning the claimant's
residual functional capacity [...] are entitled to some res
judicata consideration in subsequent proceedings".
Chavez v. Brown, 844 F.2d 691, 694 (9th Cir. 1988).
"[S]uch findings cannot be reconsidered by a subsequent
judge absent new information not presented to the first
judge". Stubbs-Danielson v. Astrtie, 539 F.3d
1169? 1173 (9th Cir. 2008).
avers that the findings of the ALJ in her previous SSI
application that she is limited to sedentary work with the
need to alternate sitting and standing should be given
preclusive effect to the findings of the ALJ in her current
application for SSI, specifically the finding that plaintiff
is capable of performing light work. Plaintiff argues that
the failure of the current ALJ to discuss what effect, if
any, res judicata should have on his findings means that the
subsequent RFC analysis was fatally flawed. Plaintiff
contends that, because of this failure, she should either be