United States District Court, D. Oregon
E. Haapala Jr., Haapala Law, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, Jeffery E. Staples, Special
Assistant United States Attorney, Office of General Counsel,
Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon, United States District Judge.
B. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(the “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, 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 1226.
filed an application for DIB on December 16, 2013, alleging
disability beginning on January 30, 2013. AR 18. Plaintiff
was born in February 1969 and was 43 years old as of the
alleged disability onset date. AR 65. He alleged disability
due to type 1 diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, migraines,
and asthma. See Id. The Commissioner denied
Plaintiffs application initially and upon reconsideration. AR
18, 65, 76. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 38-63,
103-04. In a decision dated September 9, 2016, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled from December 16, 2013, through the
date of decision. AR 18-32. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-6; see
also20 C.F.R § 422.210(a). Plaintiff seeks judicial
review of that decision. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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
also20 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 also20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1566, 416.966 (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), 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
performed the sequential analysis as noted above. At step
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 30, 2013, the alleged onset
date. The ALJ additionally found that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2019.
AR 20. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, type II;
sleep apnea; anxiety; depression; and obesity. Id.
At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled
the severity of one of the specific impairments listed in the
regulations. AR 31.
next determined Plaintiff's RFC and found he could
perform sedentary work, with the following limitations:
[H]e can perform one or two or three-step simple tasks. He
would need to deal primarily with things and not people. He
can perform work that does not require interaction with the
public. He must be allowed to alternate between sitting ...