United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
J. Wall Attorney for Plaintiff
Williams United States Attorney Assistant United States
Attorney Kathryn Ann Miller Social Security Administration
Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Danya B. brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her applications
for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under
Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security
income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The
Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). The issues
before the Court are whether the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred by: (1) discounting Plaintiff's
testimony; (2) discounting the opinion of Maria Foy, FNP,
Plaintiff's primary-care provider; and (3) discounting
the opinion of the testifying medical expert, Melvin M.
Harter, M.D. The Court affirms the Commissioner's final
applied for DIB on June 28, 2013, and SSI on September 27,
2013, alleging a disability onset date of July 31, 2009. Tr.
282, 289. Plaintiff's applications were denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff's first
administrative hearing was held on December 1, 2015, before
ALJ S. Andrew Grace. Tr. 71. At the initial hearing,
Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to January 6, 2011.
Tr. 75. After the initial hearing, the ALJ received
additional medical evidence including a comprehensive
physical examination. The ALJ then held a second hearing on
May 5, 2016, at which Dr. Harter testified as a nonexamining
medical expert. Tr. 53, 55. In a written decision issued July
23, 2016, ALJ Grace found Plaintiff disabled beginning April
1, 2014. Tr. 20-46. ALJ Grace, however, found Plaintiff was
not disabled before April 1, 2014. On August 22, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied review, rendering ALJ Grace's
decision final. Tr. 1-5.
claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a
five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant
bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.
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.
three, the Commissioner determines whether 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.
four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant,
despite any impairment(s), has the RFC to perform “past
relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). If the claimant can, 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 its 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.
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 6, 2011, the amended alleged
onset date. Tr. 22.
two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments before April 1, 2014: obesity, sleep apnea,
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
“status-post [two] back surgeries, ” migraine
headaches, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder,
and a “history of personality disorder.” Tr. 22.
The ALJ also found Plaintiff had the following additional
severe impairments as of April 1, 2014: left knee meniscus
tear and chondromalacia patella, bilateral lower extremity
edema, and asthma. Tr. 22-24.
three, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments or
combination of impairments did not meet or equal the severity
of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 24-28.
step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC prior to
April 1, 2014, to perform work consistent with the following
[T]he claimant had the residual functional capacity to
perform light work, which is defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)
and 416.967(b). The claimant required permission to change
position from sitting to standing or standing to sitting
approximately every 30 minutes at the work station, thereby
resulting in no loss of productivity other than the very
brief time required to accomplish the position change. She
was not able to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds or to
crawl. She was able occasionally to climb ramps and stairs
and occasionally to balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. The
claimant had to avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and
hazards. She was able to perform simple, routine, repetitive
tasks consistent with unskilled work in jobs that required no
more than occasional, superficial contact with the public and
Tr. 28-39. The ALJ also determined, however, that as of April
1, 2014, Plaintiff “had the residual functional
capacity to perform light work” as she did before April
1, 2014, but that “she further must be permitted to
take 3 extra breaks per day, for 15 minutes each, in addition
to standard breaks.” Tr. 39-41.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform her
past relevant work as a telemarketer, office helper, general
production worker, customer-service representative, or child
monitor. Tr. 41-43.
five, the ALJ concluded other jobs existed in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform before April 1, 2014,
including work as a mail clerk, a merchandise marker, and a
hand packager. Tr. 44. The ALJ also found that as of April 1,
2014, there were not any jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.
Tr. 45. Accordingly, the ...