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Cindy L v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

July 27, 2018

Cindy L.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANN AIKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Cindy L. ("plaintiff) 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 application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         In November 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB. She alleged disability beginning November 30, 2010, due to Crohn's disease, as well as pain and swelling in her hands, feet, and right elbow. Plaintiffs DIB application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On April 13, 2015, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ and testified. A vocational expert also testified. Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative. In a written decision issued April 24, 2015, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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." Edhmd v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

         COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The 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).

         The 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). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the alleged disability onset date of November 30, 2010. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments as of the alleged onset Dated: Crohn's disease and right elbow epicondylitis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c).

         At step 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).

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The ALJ found plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; is limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; is limited to frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; is limited to frequent reaching and handling with the dominant right upper extremity; and must have access to a bathroom at the workplace.

Tr. 14. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not perform any of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, however, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as an assembler or packager/sorter. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), ...


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