United States District Court, D. Oregon
J. Wall, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, Alexis L. Toma, Special
Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General
Counsel, Of Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL H. SIMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). 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
Jill C., filed an application for DIB and SSI on February 6,
2014, alleging disability beginning on July 15, 2012. AR 19,
66-67, 192-201. She was 41 years old at the alleged
disability onset date and is currently 48 years old.
Plaintiff alleged disability due to a seizure disorder,
memory loss, degenerative arthritis, left shoulder pain,
depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder. AR
66-67. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application
initially and upon reconsideration. AR 82, 148. After these
decisions, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 155-57. On
May 27, 2016, ALJ S. Andrew Grace found Plaintiff not
disabled. AR 16-18. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision
to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied the
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-4. Plaintiff seeks
judicial 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), 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 also 20 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
found that Plaintiff met the insured requirements of the
Social Security Act for purposes of DIB, with a date last
insured of December 31, 2018. The ALJ then applied the
sequential analysis. At step one, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff may have engaged in substantial gainful activity
for a period in 2012 and 2013 while working for Marshalls
retail store, but the dates of employment were unclear. The
ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in any other
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date,
July 15, 2012. AR 21.
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: major depressive disorder, cognitive disorder,
anxiety disorder, personality disorder not otherwise
specified, posttraumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), seizure disorder, degenerative illness
of the knees, and post left shoulder dislocation with
calcific tendonitis. Id. At step three, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or equals one of the
specific impairments listed in the regulations. AR 22. The
ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform
sedentary work, except that she should avoid concentrated
exposure to hazards. AR 23. The ALJ also included the
following limitations in Plaintiff's RFC: she can
occasionally climb, use foot controls, and reach overhead;
she can never climb ladders or scaffolds; she is limited to
simple, routine tasks and low-stress work; she is limited to
occasional contact with the public and coworkers; and, she
can perform work at an ordinary pace but not a production
rate pace. AR 23-24.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any
past relevant work. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined
that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Plaintiff can perform. AR 30. Based on
the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff is capable of performing the requirements of
representative occupations such as an electronics worker or
semi-conductor worker. For these reasons, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff is not disabled.
argues that the ALJ erred by: (A) improperly discounting
Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony based on
non-compliance with treatment; and (B) improperly weighing
the opinions of treating physicians and mental health