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Marquea H. v. Commissioner Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

October 10, 2018

MARQUEA H., [1] Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Marquea H, 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 applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB on August 6, 2013, and she filed for SSI on March 2, 2015. She alleged disability beginning June 8, 2011[3] due to degenerative disc disease, torn labrum, partially torn rotator cuff, unaligned rib cage, medication limitations and requirements, chronic neck pain, arthritis, left ulnar neuropathy, migraines, and endometriosis.

         Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On December 1, 2015, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and was represented by counsel. A Vocational Expert (VE) also testified. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued January 22, 2016. 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 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," Edhind 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. Tr. 27; 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: "degenerative disc disease, arthritis, left ulnar neuropathy, migraines, and endometriosis; 20 C.F.R, §§ 404.1520(c); id. §§ 416.920(c)," Tr, 27. 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. 28; 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), In addition to other limitations not relevant to this appeal, the ALJ found that plaintiff had:

[f]he residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). She can lift and cany a maximum of 10 pounds. She can push and pull within those weight limits. She can stand and walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday. She can sit for six horns in an eight-hour workday. She requires the opportunity to shift from sitting to standing at will. She should have no exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, humidity, and pulmonary irritants. She should have no exposure to unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can occasionally climb ladders and scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can occasionally reach overhead with both arms. She can frequently balance. She can frequently handle, finger, and feel with her non-dominant hand. She can frequently use foot controls with both feet.

Tr. 28-9.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a receptionist. Tr. 38; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). The ALJ continued to step five and found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as an appointment clerk, and/or call out operator. Tr. 38; C.F.R. §§ ...

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