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Michael S. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 12, 2018

MICHAEL S.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Sara L. Gabin SARA L. GABIN, P.C., ATTORNEY AT LAW Attorney for Plaintiff

          Billy J. Williams UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Renata Gowie ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon

          Sarah L. Martin SPECIAL ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Office of the General Counsel Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Michael S. brings this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)). For the reasons that follow, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on January 10, 2014, alleging an onset date of October 17, 2012. Tr. 201-11.[2] His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 90-131, 134-38, 146-51.

         On March 3, 2016, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 35-89. On June 21, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled from October 17, 2012 through the date of her decision. Tr. 17-34. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1-5.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges disability based on central serous retinopathy, sleep apnea, right knee and right elbow problems, and chronic insomnia. Tr. 90. Plaintiff has a host of other health problems, including: hearing loss, obesity, diabetes, and lumbar disc disease. Pl.'s Br. 2. At the hearing, Plaintiff also alleged he had depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Tr. 23. Plaintiff was fifty-seven years old at the time of the hearing and was fifty-four years old at the time of his alleged onset date. Id. He has a GED along with two welding certifications. Tr. 42- 43. His past relevant work experience includes welder supervisor, welder assembler, combination welder, truck assembler, overhead crane operator, and forklift operator. Tr. 29, 67.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY EVALUATION

         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, e.g., Valentine v. Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At 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). At 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.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant'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.

         At 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. At 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.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 22. Next, at step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome of the right hand, hearing loss, and degenerative disc disease. Id. However, at step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal the severity of any listed impairment. Tr. 23-24. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b) with exceptions, including postural, manipulative, and environmental limitations. Tr. 24. The ALJ found Plaintiff can, in an environment with a noise level not exceeding the loud level, perform the following: frequently climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch and climb; occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and frequently handle and finger with the right upper extremity. Id. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is able to perform past relevant work as a welder supervisor, welder assembler, combination welder, truck assembler, and overhead crane operator. Tr. 28. In the alternative, the ALJ found at step five that Plaintiff could perform the occupations of laundry worker, janitor, and courtesy clerk. Tr. 30. Thus, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. Id.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 ...


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