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Leah S. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 26, 2018

LEAH S., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          John V. Acosta, Judge

         Leah S. ("plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Based on a careful review of the record, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on September 3, 2013, alleging disability as of January 1, 2008, due to bipolar disorder, dissociative mood disorder, social anxiety, depression, diabetes, panic attacks, and periodic mania. (Tr. 195, 202, 239.) Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 126, 131.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and an administrative hearing was held on June 3, 2016. (Tr. 49-73.) ALJ MaryKay Rauenzahn issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled on July 21, 2016. (Tr. 21-37.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review on June 20, 2017, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4.) This appeal followed.

         Factual Background

         Born in 1974, plaintiff was 33 years old on the alleged onset date, and 42 years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 35, 52.) She earned a GED and completed some college. (Tr. 53.) Plaintiff previously worked as a telephone sales representative, customer service representative/user support analyst, and motor vehicle dispatcher. (Tr. 34-35.)

         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) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). 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). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         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. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If so, she 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(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, she is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either individually 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, she is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can still perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, she is not disabled; if she cannot, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.

         At step five, the Commissioner must establish 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), 416.920(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ performed the sequential analysis, as noted above. At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in SGA since the alleged onset date, January 1, 2008. (Tr. 23.) At step two, the ALJ determined plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, type II; obesity; migraines; depression; bipolar II disorder; anxiety disorder, unspecified; posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") with dissociative symptoms; panic disorder; and agoraphobia. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 24.)

         The ALJ determined plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "a full range of work at all exertional levels," with the following non-exertional limitations:

She can have no exposure to workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. She is limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out routine instructions that can be learned in 30-days or less. She is limited to engaging in a low stress occupation, further defined as requiring only occasional changes in work setting and work duties and no conveyor belt paced work. She is also limited to performing only isolated work, further defined as requiring no ...

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