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Darlinda S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

September 28, 2018

DARLINDA S., [1] Plaintiff,


          Ann Aiken U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff Darlinda S. 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 Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         This is plaintiffs fourth disability claim. Claims plaintiff filed in May 2006, February 2007, and October 2010 were all denied by the Commissioner. In response to plaintiffs October 2010 application, an ALJ issued a written opinion rejecting plaintiffs claim in April 2013. In June 2014, plaintiff submitted the SSI application that is the subject of this action. Plaintiff alleged disability beginning May 30, 2013, due to kidney cancer, kidney removal, sciatica, left shoulder impingement syndrome, diabetes, fibromyalgia, hypertension, high cholesterol, sinus bradycardia, right ventricular hypertrophy, scoliosis of the lumbar spine, dyspnea upon exertion, costochondritis, biliary reflux, cervicalgia, epicondylitis, caipal tunnel syndrome, and right hip trochanteric bursitis. Her application was denied initially, and upon reconsideration. On July 30, 2015, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. At the hearing, plaintiff testified and was represented by an attorney. A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued September 21, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed the present complaint in this Court.


         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).


         The initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the 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); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the alleged disability onset date of May 30, 2013. Tr. 22-23; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments as of the alleged onset Dated: "fibromyalgia; caipal tunnel syndrome; shoulder impingement syndrome; hypeitension; marijuana dependence; mild degenerative disc disease with radiculopathy; osteoporosis of the lumber spine; clear cell adenocarcinoma of the right kidney, status post nephrectomy; and irritable bowel syndrome." Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(h), (c). The ALJ considered the record evidence of gastroesophageal reflux disease, diabetes mellitus, and hyperlipidemia and concluded they were not severe impairments because the record did not "document any resulting functional limitations that would significantly affect the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities for a continuous period of at least 12 months." Tr. 23.

         At step three, the ALJ determined 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. Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"), 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to:

[p]erform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), except she can frequently climb ramps or stairs, but only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can engage in frequent overhead reaching bilaterally. She can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She must avoid more than occasional exposure to workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. She must be permitted to take three 5-minute breaks in addition to normal breaks.

Tr. 23.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a cashier and was thus not disabled. As an alternative finding, the ALJ proceeded to step five and determined plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy such as sorter, assembler, or marker. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), ...

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