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William H. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 26, 2018

WILLIAM H.[1], Plaintiff,

          BRUCE BREWER Of Attorney for Plaintiff BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney HEATHER GRIFFITH Special Assistant United States of Attorneys for Defendant



         William H. ("Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Based on a careful review of the record, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI on June 8, 2012, alleging disability as of December 4, 2009, due to hypertension; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; arthritis of the back and knees; post-surgical right knee meniscus tear; and depression. (Tr. 287.) His applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 19.) Following an administrative hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 121.) However, the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the case for further consideration. (Tr. 137.) A hearing was held on November 4, 2016, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"); Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). (Tr. 57-73.) On January 27, 2017, ALJ Paul Robeck issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 15-30.) Plaintiff requested timely review of the ALJ's decision and, after the Appeals Council denied his request for review, filed a complaint in this Court. (Tr. 1-3.)

         Factual Background

         Born in 1969, Plaintiff was 40 years old on his alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 28.) Plaintiff completed high school and previously worked as a maintenance worker, warehouse worker, and production worker. (Tr. 289.)

         Standard of Review

         The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant 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. §§ 404.1502 and 404.920. First, the Commissioner considers whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step two, the Commissioner evaluates 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(a)(4)(h). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either 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 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f) and 404.920(f), 4l6.92O(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can work, he is not disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.

         At step five, the Commissioner must demonstrate that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.960(c). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 4l6.92O(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ's Findings

         At step one of the sequential evaluation process outlined above, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ...

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