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Tamara K. v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

January 2, 2019

TAMARA K.[1], Plaintiff,


          Youlee Yim You, United States Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff Tamara K. seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Social Security Commissioner (“Commissioner”) denying her 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). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision should be AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on September 3, 2013. Tr. 20. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2011. Id. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which took place on January 6, 2016, before ALJ Rudy Murgo. Id. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Id. At the hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged disability onset date to January 1, 2012. Id. ALJ Murgo conducted two supplemental hearings, on April 7 and July 11, 2016, to take testimony from a medical expert. Id. On August 2, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled, and the Appeals Council subsequently denied review. Tr. 20-39. Plaintiff then filed a complaint in this court.


         Born in 1968, plaintiff was 43 years old on the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 37. Plaintiff alleges disability due to depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). Tr. 440. Plaintiff has worked as a sales clerk, cosmetics demonstrator, customer service representative, baker, exotic dancer, self-employed boutique manager, modem company manager, insurance agent, and artist. Tr. 36-37, 73, 161, 901, 918, 957. Plaintiff did not complete high school, but later obtained a GED and took two years of college courses. Tr. 406.


         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. §§ 404.1520(b) and 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) and 416.920(c). 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) and 416.920(d). 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). 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) and 416.920(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566 and 416.966.


         At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, January 1, 2012. Tr. 22.

         At step two, the ALJ determined plaintiff has the following severe impairments: ADHD, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and PTSD. Id. The ALJ found that plaintiff's “sprains and strains, ” as well as her “post-concussion syndrome status/post motor vehicle accident, ” were non-severe impairments. Tr. 26.

         At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 27-31. Because plaintiff did not establish disability at step three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiff's impairments affected her ability to work during the relevant period. The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work, except she was limited to performing “simple routine tasks rated at the SVP 1 or SVP 2 skill levels, she can have no public contact, and she can have superficial supervisor and co-worker contact.” Tr. 32.

         At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform her ...

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