United States District Court, D. Oregon
L. Mooney, 1300 S.W. Fifth Avenue, Suite 2300, Portland, OR,
97201. Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, United States
Attorney's Office, Catherine Escobar, Special Assistant
United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel, Of
Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. SIMON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
(“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 and Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI 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');">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
protectively filed an application for DIB on October 22,
2012, alleging disability beginning on December 24, 2007. AR
214-15. He filed an application for SSI on January 10, 2014,
alleging disability beginning on January 1,
2012. AR 217-22. Plaintiff was born on May 15,
1963, and he was 44 years old as of the alleged disability
onset date for DIB and was 49 years old as of the alleged
disability onset date for SSI. AR 276. He alleged disability
due to depression, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, blood
disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”), memory loss, pelvic injury, knee
injury, back injury, and neck injury. AR 293. The
Commissioner denied his application initially and upon
reconsideration. AR 146, 152. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Id. The ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled from December 24, 2007, through the date of the
decision, January 12, 2016. Id. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR
3. Plaintiff 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. §§
“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
preliminary matter, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through December 31, 2014. AR 25. Thus, for his DIB claim,
Plaintiff must establish disability on or before that date.
At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date
through his date last insured. Id. At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: depression, personality disorder, cervical
degenerative disc disease, irritable bowel syndrome, COPD,
and erythocytosis. AR 26. At step three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled one of the specific
impairments listed in the regulations in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 416.920(d), 416.925 and
416.926. AR 27. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had an
RFC to perform light work, with some additional restrictions:
The claimant can occasionally perform overhead reaching
bilaterally. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure
to pulmonary irritants and hazards. The claimant can
occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. The claimant is limited to simple,
routine, repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work. ...