United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
YIM YOU UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
E. (“plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision by the Social Security Commissioner
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“SSA”). This court
has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). All parties have
consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders
and judgment in this case in accordance with FRCP 73 and 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
applied for DIB on October 18, 2012. Tr. 16. Plaintiff
alleged a disability onset date of January 14, 2011.
Id.; Tr. 149. Plaintiff's applications were
denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 16. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which took place before ALJ S. Andrew
Grace on June 11, 2015. Id. Plaintiff was
represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational
expert (“VE”). Tr. 37-60. On July 24, 2015, ALJ
Grace issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Tr.
16-29. Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council
and was subsequently denied. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff then filed a
complaint in this court.
1951, plaintiff was 59 years old on the alleged disability
onset date. Tr. 28. Plaintiff alleges disability due to
hypogonadism; osteoarthritis; neuropathy; hernia; carpal
tunnel syndrome; GERD; sleep apnea; peripheral neuropathy;
shortness of breath; “seborric” dermatitis;
spondylolisthesis; and benign prosthetic hyperplasia. Tr.
168. Plaintiff completed college and obtained a master's
degree in microbiology. Tr. 39. Plaintiff worked as a project
manager and the vice-president of a risk management company.
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) (citation and internal
quotations omitted). The court must weigh “both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
[Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable
interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the
Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v.
Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
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).
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.
§§ 404.1502 and 404.920. First, the Commissioner
considers whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial
gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140;
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not
two, the Commissioner evaluates 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). If the claimant does not have a
severe impairment, he is not disabled.
three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's
impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal
“one of a No. of listed impairments that the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482
U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the
claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner
proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can
still perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(f). If the claimant can work, he is not
disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner.
five, the Commissioner must demonstrate that the claimant can
perform other work existing in significant No. in the
national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at
141-42; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner
meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date, January 14,
2011. Tr. 18. Plaintiff earned $13, 432 performing contract
work in the first quarter of 2013. Tr. 18. However, the ALJ
noted that there were continuous 12-month periods during the
adjudicatory period when plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity. Tr. 18.
two, the ALJ determined plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder;
sleep apnea; hip degenerative joint disease; knee
osteoarthritis; degenerative disc disease; hernia status post
repair; neuropathy; cardiomyopathy; and atrial fibrillation.
Id. The ALJ found that plaintiff's GERD did not
rise to the level of a severe impairment. Tr. 18-19.
three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, either
singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the
requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 19-21. Because
plaintiff did not establish disability at step three, the ALJ
continued to evaluate how plaintiff's impairments
affected his ability to work during the relevant period. The
ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work except:
[H]e should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds or
crawl. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance,
stoop, kneel, and crouch. He should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme temperatures, vibrations, pulmonary
irritants, and hazards. He is limited to unskilled and
four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform his
past relevant work. Tr. 27.
five, based on the testimony of the VE and other evidence,
the ALJ determined that plaintiff could perform other work
existing in significant No. in the national economy despite
his impairments, including collections/loan application clerk
and computation clerk. Tr. 28. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. Tr. 29.
preliminary matter, plaintiff begins his opening brief
seeking to amend his disability onset date to January 22,
2014. The court cannot consider plaintiff's request, as
its review is restricted to the Commissioner's final
decision, which used a disability onset date of January 14,
2011. See Klemm v. Astrue, 543 F.3d 1139, 1144 (9th
Cir. 2008) (“[t]he Social Security Act grants to
district courts jurisdiction to review only ‘final
decisions' of the Commissioner”). Therefore,
plaintiff's disability onset date remains January 14,
alleges the ALJ erred by improperly assessing: (1) subjective
symptom testimony; (2) mental impairments under the RFC; (3)
carpal tunnel syndrome at step two; and (4) ability to work