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Ronald F. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 23, 2019

RONALD F.,[1] Plaintiff,


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Ronald F. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The Commissioner determined that while plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, he did not meet the disability requirements under the Social Security Act ("Act"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.


         On June 6, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for DIB with an alleged disability onset date of December 25, 2011. Tr, 15. The claim was initially denied on October 15, 2013, and it was denied again on reconsideration on April 29, 2014. Id. Plaintiff filed a written request for an administrative hearing which was held on January 26, 2016. Id. Plaintiff was represented by counsel. Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified at the hearing. Prior to the hearing, plaintiff amended his alleged disability onset date to December 28, 2011. Id. On March 8, 2016, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued an order finding that plaintiff was not under disability for the requisite 12 months and was therefore not eligible for DIB. Tr. 28.

         Plaintiff was 57 years old at the time of his alleged onset date and 61 years old at the time of his hearing. PL's Br. at 3. He completed some college coursework and was previously employed as an insurance salesman and a support technician. Id.; Tr. 60.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based upon proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Gutierrez v. Comm'r Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the Commissioner's decision is rational, "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner" and the decision must be affirmed. Edhind v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         The initial burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the plaintiff 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 lias established a five-step sequential process for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yitckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); id, § 416.920(a)(4), As a threshold matter, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirement. Tr. 17. Proceeding to step one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date of December 28, 2011. Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had several severe impairments: "history of longstanding lumbar degenerative disk disease with failed laminectomy syndrome, left hand trigger finger, and peripheral neuropathy." Id. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c). The ALJ found that the plaintiffs "medically determinable mental impairments of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder, considered singly and in combination, do not cause more than minimal limitations" and were not severe. Tr. 19-20.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or collectively, did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526 that Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr. 20.

         Next, the ALJ assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations:

[Claimant is limited to not more than occasional stooping, kneeling, balancing, or crouching. He can never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and he is limited to no more than frequent climbing of stairs and ramps. The claimant can also only frequently handle, grasp, or finger with his left hand and he would need to avoid concentration exposure to heights, moving machinery, and similar hazards.

Tr. 21. In making this determination, the ALJ noted that the "[plaintiffs] significant activities of daily living" suggested that he was capable of performing fairly significant work activities. Tr. 24.

         At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as an insurance salesperson and support technician, Tr. 27; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). The ALJ relied upon the testimony of a vocational expert in reaching this decision. Because ...

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