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Loraine M. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 20, 2018

LORAINE M. M.d.H., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Richard F. McGinty, McGinty & Belcher, P.O. Box 12806, Salem, OR 97301. Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Kathryn A. Miller, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Of Attorneys for Defendant.



         Loraine M.d.H. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


         The 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).

         Where 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 1226.


         A. Plaintiff's Application

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on January 16, 2013, originally alleging she became disabled on March 1, 2002. AR 244.[2] Plaintiff later amended her alleged disability onset date to October 24, 2012. AR 55. Born in 1973, Plaintiff was 39 years old at the alleged disability onset date and 42 years old at the time of her hearing. AR 244. She attended high school until the tenth grade. AR 276. Plaintiff had past relevant work experience as a fast food worker, ice cream server, office specialist, cannery worker, and pizza delivery driver. AR 40, 317. She alleged disability due to spinal and back pain, moodiness and fatigue from Graves' disease, Hepatitis C, anger outbursts and meltdowns due to post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anemia, high blood pressure, increased heartrate from “premature ventricular contraction, ” high cholesterol, and foot numbness. AR 305, 378.

         The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 97, 122, 181. On June 19, 2015, a hearing was held before ALJ Joanne Dantonio, at which Plaintiff, her counsel, and Nancy Bloom, a vocational expert (“VE”), were present. AR 52-78. In a decision dated August 18, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. AR 19-42. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 16, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-4; see also 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of that decision. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. The Sequential Analysis

         A 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), ...

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