United States District Court, D. Oregon
R.J. Porter, Of Attorney for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Sarah Moum, Special Assistant United
States Attorney, OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL, Social Attorneys
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. SIMON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Y. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying
Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's
decision is AFFIRMED.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings
are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” means
“more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995)). It means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews, 53
F.3d at 1039).
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be
upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a
rational reading of the record, and this Court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190,
1193, 1196 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] reviewing court must
consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation
marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm
the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did
not rely. Id.; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at
filed an application for DIB on November 1, 2011, alleging
disability beginning on December 29, 2008. AR 96-97. He was
born on July 10, 1951, and he was 57 years old as of the
alleged disability onset date. He alleged disability due to
depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, alcohol
addiction, memory loss, and balance problems. AR 97. The
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and
upon reconsideration. AR 156, 164. Thereafter, Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), but later asked to withdraw the request
for hearing. AR 131. Thus, the ALJ dismissed the request for
a hearing. Id.
filed another application for DIB on January 11, 2014,
alleging disability beginning July 30, 2012. AR 144-45. He
was 62 years old as of this alleged disability onset date. He
alleged disability due to depression, anxiety, head injury,
short term memory loss, balance loss, hand cramping, joint
pain, hip and shoulder pain, gout, nerve damage in the left
foot toe, constant pain, and constant ringing in both ears.
AR 144. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application
initially and upon reconsideration. AR 95, 178. Thereafter,
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 189. The ALJ
found Plaintiff not disabled from July 30, 2012 through
December 31, 2012. AR 28. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1.
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision.
The Sequential Analysis
claimant is disabled if he or she is unable 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). “Social Security Regulations set out a
five-step sequential process for determining whether an
applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act.” Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (DIB), 416.920
(SSI); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987).
Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential
process asks the following series of questions:
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant
mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay
or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510, 416.910. If the
claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe”
under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
impairment or combination of impairments is
“severe” if it significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a).
Unless expected to result in death, this impairment must have
lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of at
least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 416.909. If
the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis
ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment
does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments,
the analysis continues. At that point, the ALJ must evaluate
medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine
the claimant's “residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”). This is an assessment of work-related
activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular
and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his
or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
404.1545(b)-(c), 416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ
determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to
4. Can the claimant perform his or her “past relevant
work” with this RFC assessment? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot
perform his or her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds
to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1560(c), 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such
work, he or she is disabled. Id.
See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954
(9th Cir. 2001).
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. at 953; see also Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999);
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41. The Commissioner bears
the burden of proof at step five. Tackett, 180 F.3d
at 1100. At step five, the Commissioner must show that the
claimant can perform other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, “taking into
consideration the claimant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and work experience.”
Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1566, 416.966 (describing “work which exists in the
national economy”). If the Commissioner fails to meet
this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the
Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante,
262 F.3d at 953-54; Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.
The ALJ's Decision
began his opinion by noting that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of the Social Security Act through
December 31, 2012. AR 19. At step one, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from his alleged onset date of July 30,
2012, through his date last insured of December 31, 2012. AR
19. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: “degenerative disc
disease; gout; asthma; arthritis of the right hip; and
history of subdural hematoma.” AR 19. At step three,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 21. At step four, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c), with the additional
limitations that Plaintiff was precluded from climbing
ladders and scaffolds, working at unprotected heights, and
working in areas where he would be exposed to dust, fumes,
gases, and airborne irritants. AR 22. The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as
an engineering manager and business owner. AR 27.
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a
disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, at any
time from July 30, 2012 through December 31, 2012. AR 28.
seeks review of the determination by the ALJ that he was not
disabled. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in making that
determination by: (A) failing to provide clear and convincing
reasons to discount Plaintiff's subjective symptoms; (B)
improperly according great weight to the state medical
consultant's psychological assessment; (C) failing to
incorporate medical findings into Plaintiff's RFC; (D)