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Gayle L. R. v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 20, 2019

GAYLE L. R., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINSTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS M. COFFIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Gayle R. brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 11, 2013, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging disability as of February 21, 2012. Tr. 167-73. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 117-21, 123-25. On October 6, 2016, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). Tr. 35-84. On November 25, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. 20-29. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-6.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         Born in 1951, plaintiff was 60 years old on the alleged onset date and 64 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 39, 167. She graduated from high school and completed one year of college. Tr. 41, 211. Plaintiff worked previously as bus driver and drug/alcohol program specialist for Trimet. Tr. 62, 65-71, 212. Plaintiff alleges disability due to fibromyalgia, chronic pain, bursitis, hypertension, sleep problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). Tr. 210.

         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. § 404.1520. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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). 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 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). 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). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish 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). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         At step one of the five step sequential evaluation process outlined above, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 22. At step two, the ALJ determined the following impairments were medically determinable and severe: "degenerative disc disease, bilateral shoulder degenerative joint disease, bursitis, fibromyalgia, and obesity." Id. At step three, the ALJ found plaintiffs impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment. Tr. 24.

         Because she did not establish presumptive disability at step three, the ALJ continued to evaluate how plaintiffs impairments affected her ability to work. The ALJ resolved that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except that:

she can stand and walk for a combined total of six hours and can sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour day. [Plaintiff] can frequently push and pull; frequently climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and frequently balance, stoop, ...

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