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Nathan A. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

October 30, 2018

NATHAN A., [1] Plaintiff,


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Nathan A. 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 previously denied plaintiffs applications for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         Plaintiff applied for SSI on March 22, 2013. In his application, plaintiff alleged disability beginning on November 29, 2012. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). An administrative hearing took place on July 11, 2015, where plaintiff was represented by counsel. Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. On October 28, 2015, the ALJ issued a ruling finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review. Plaintiff then 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." Edlund 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 March 22, 2013, the application date. Tr. 18; 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: "bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and status post stab wound in the left arm." Tr. 18; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(h), (c). 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. T. 19-20 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 that plaintiff has the

capacity to perform medium work . . . except the [plaintiff] should avoid climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The [plaintiff] is right hand dominant. The [plaintiff] can perform only occasional fingering. The [plaintiff] is limited to frequent handling and grasping 10 pounds and occasional handling and grasping of 20 pounds with his left hand. The [plaintiff] must avoid even moderate exposure to hazards. The [plaintiff] should avoid extremes of noise. The [plaintiff] should work in a noise level of three or less.

Tr. 19.

         At step four, the ALJ noted plaintiff has no past relevant work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At step five, however, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a counter clerk, furniture rental clerk, or greeter. Tr. 22; 20 C.F.R. §§ ...

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