United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Aiken United States District Judge.
Margaret H. brings this action pursuant to the Social
Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to
obtain judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner").
The Commissioner denied plaintiffs applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
affirmed and this case is dismissed.
January 15, 2013, plaintiff filed applications for DIB and
SSI, alleging disability as of January 1, 2004. Plaintiff was
fifty-four years old on the alleged disability onset date.
She completed some college coursework and previously worked
as a senior foster caregiver. Plaintiffs impairments include
post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and
dysthymia. The agency denied both the DIB and the SSI claims
initially and again upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested
a hearing and the ALJ subsequently denied plaintiffs claims
for benefits on February 25, 2016. Plaintiff requested a
review of the hearing decision, which the Appeals Council
denied on March 28, 2017. Plaintiff now seeks review of the
ALJ's decision in this Court.
district court reviews the Commissioner's final decision
under the substantial evidence standard; the decision will be
disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence
or is based on legal error. See 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) ("[F]indings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive[.]"); Smokn v.
Chafer, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Andrews
v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
"Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Webb v. Barhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686
(9th Cir. 2005). "Substantial evidence means more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance."
Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1279 (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) and Sorenson v.
Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975))
(internal 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." Edlvnd
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[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also
id, § l382c(a)(3)(A) (substantially identical
standard for SSI).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. 3owen v.
Ymkert, 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 that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date on January 1, 2004. At step two, the ALJ found the
following severe impairments: PTSD and dysthymia. However,
the ALJ found that the record failed to establish any severe,
medically determinable impairment existing between January 1,
2004, the alleged onset date, and June 30, 2009, the date
last insured, as relevant to plaintiffs DIB application. The
ALJ therefore denied plaintiffs DIB claim at step two.
with the analysis for plaintiffs SSI claim, at step three,
the ALJ determined 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. Tr. 19. The ALJ next assessed the a residual
functional capacity ("RFC") and found that
plaintiff is able to
[P]erform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant is
limited to simple, routine tasks consistent with unskilled
work as defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. The
claimant is limited to simple work-related decisions. The
claimant is limited to occasional interaction with
supervisors, but frequent interaction with coworkers and the
Tr. 21. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff has no
past relevant work because she has not earned at
"substantial gainful activity" levels since 2001.
Tr. 26. At step five, the ALJ found that plaintiff retained
the ability to perform the representative jobs of dietary
aid, laundry worker II, and garment sorter. Therefore, the
ALJ found that plaintiff had not been under a disability from
January 1, 2004, the alleged disability onset date, through
February 25, 2016, the date of the ALJ's unfavorable
appeal, plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by (1)
disposing of plaintiff s DIB claim at step two of the
sequential analysis, (2) failing to provide specific, clear,
and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence to
discredit plaintiffs subjective symptom testimony, and (3)
failing to adequately account for all of plaintiff s mental
limitations in the formulation of the RFC and hypotheticals
posed to the vocational expert, resulting in an error at step
five of the sequential analysis.
The ALJ erred at step hvo
first argues that the ALJ's step two finding was not
supported by substantial evidence. A claimant is not disabled
unless he or she has a severe impairment, or combination of
impairments, significantly limiting his or her physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the ALJ finds no
severe impairments at step two, the disability claim will be
denied. If, however, the claimant has at least one severe
impairment, the ALJ then proceeds to step three. A
claimant's impairment (or combination of impairments) is
not severe if it does not significantly limit his or her
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities
(i.e., the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do
most jobs). Id. §§ 404.1521, 416.921. To
satisfy his or her burden at step two, the ...