United States District Court, D. Oregon
Kathryn Tassinari and Robert Baron, Harder, Wells, Baron
& Manning, P.C Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, Sarah L. Martin, Special
Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel,
Social Security Administration, Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge.
Cirdan E. (“Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of
the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”). This Court has jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's
application for DIB 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,
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
was born on February 3, 1980. AR 30. Plaintiff completed two
years of college. AR 208. Plaintiff worked as a telemarketer,
job skills trainer, and sales person. AR 208. He filed for
DIB on July 16, 2013, alleging disability beginning April 2,
2013, due to severe attention deficit disorder
(“ADD”); attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(“ADHD”); “back/leg injury;” and
chronic migraines. AR 207. Plaintiff was 33 years old as of
the alleged disability onset date.
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration,
and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). AR 19. An administrative hearing was
held before ALJ Katherine Weatherly on March 8, 2016. AR
39-88. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified.
Id. On April 18, 2016, ALJ Weatherly issued a
written decision denying Plaintiff's application. AR
19-31. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent
request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. AR
1-3. Plaintiff requests 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). 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). 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. 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). 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). 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). 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. If the claimant does not
have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(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).
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). 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). 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), 404.1560(c). If the
claimant cannot perform such work, he or she is disabled.
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. § 404.1566
(describing “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). 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
The ALJ's Decision
one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had engaged in
substantial gainful activity from January 1, 2015 until June
30, 2015, after the alleged disability onset date of April 2,
2013. AR 21. The ALJ determined, however, that there were
continuous 12-month periods in which Plaintiff did not engage
in substantial gainful activity and, therefore, proceeded to
the next step of the sequential process. AR. 22. At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: migraines; hypertension; bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine status post 2015 microlaminectomy and discectomy;
moderate alcohol related disorder, current status unclear;
ADHD; unspecified depressive disorder; somatic symptom
disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”); and an unspecified personality
disorder. AR 22. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine;
“status post right thumb fracture;” history of
right hip sprain and groin strain; and hemorrhoids were
non-severe impairments. AR 22.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR
22-23. The ALJ next addressed Plaintiff's RFC. The ALJ