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Nicholas S. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 14, 2018

NICHOLAS S.[1], Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Merrill Schneider SCHNEIDER KERR & ROBICHAUX Attorney for Plaintiff

          Billy J. Williams UNITED STATES ATTORNEY District of Oregon

          Renata Gowie ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Jordan D. Goddard SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Office of the General Counsel Attorney for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Nicholas S. brings this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny supplemental security income (SSI). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)). I affirm the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff applied for SSI on October 24, 2013, initially alleging an onset date of January 20, 2002, but later amending that date to September 26, 2013. Tr. 165-70, 20. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 77-90, 108-11 (Initial); 91-103, 113-15 (Recon.). On April 7, 2016, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 43-76. On May 23, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 17-42. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-5.


         Plaintiff alleges disability based on obesity, knee problems, back pain, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, leg and feet pain and numbness, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, hypertension, and low heart rate. Tr. 190. At the time of the hearing, he was thirty-six years old. Tr. 50. He did not complete high school and has no past relevant work experience. Tr. 368.


         A claimant is disabled if 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), 1382c(3)(a).

         Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. See Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (in social security cases, agency uses five-step procedure to determine disability). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). In step two, the Commissioner determines 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), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         In step three, the Commissioner determines whether plaintiff's impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal "one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         In step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.


         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his September 26, 2013 application date. Tr. 22. Next, at step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has severe impairments of obesity, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, intellectual disability, and autism spectrum disorder. Id. However, at step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal, either singly or in combination, a listed impairment. Tr. 24-27.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except he can frequently climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, and crouch. Tr. 28. He can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and crawl. Id. He is limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and to simple work-related decisions. Id. He is also limited to occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers and no contact with the public. Id. Because Plaintiff has no past relevant work, the ALJ went immediately to step five. Tr. 36. With this RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the economy such as agricultural produce sorter, small products assembler, and electronics worker. Tr. 37. Thus, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled. Id.


         A court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only when the Commissioner's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). "Substantial evidence means 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." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The court considers the record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id.; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be affirmed." Vasquez, 572 F.3d at 591 (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted); see also Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) ("Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's") (internal quotation marks omitted).


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by improperly finding his subjective testimony not credible, by improperly rejecting the opinion of an examining psychologist, and by improperly ...

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