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Deanne W. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 5, 2019

DEANNE W. [1], Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          TIM WILBORN Wilborn Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney

          RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney

          MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel

          JOSEPH J. LANGKAMER Special Assistant United States Attorney Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Deanne W. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner and DISMISSES this matter.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         On July 18, 2012, Plaintiff filed her application for DIB and SSI benefits. Tr. 16, 800.[2] Plaintiff alleges a disability onset date of March 1, 2012. Tr. 16, 800.

         Plaintiff's application was denied initially on September 12, 2012, and on reconsideration. Tr. 16. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on April 23, 2014. Tr. 16, 29-69. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

         On June 5, 2014, an ALJ issued an opinion in which he found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 16-27, 800. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. On November 2, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision.

         On January 6, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court (No. 3:16-cv-00020-KI) seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         While the case was pending, the parties stipulated to remand the case for additional administrative proceedings. On October 5, 2016, the court remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. Tr. 859-61.

         On October 5, 2017, following the remand, another ALJ held further proceedings on Plaintiff's application. Tr. 800, 822-46. Plaintiff and a VE testified at the hearing. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

         On November 28, 2017, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he again found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 800-14. This opinion became the Commissioner's final decision after remand when the Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(c) and (d).

         On March 22, 2018, Plaintiff again filed a Complaint in this court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on June 15, 1966. Tr. 812. Plaintiff was forty-five years old on the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 812. Plaintiff has a high-school education. Tr. 812. The ALJ found Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a house sitter. Tr. 812.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to fibromyalgia, degenerative joint disease of her shoulders, degenerative disc disease of her cervical and lumbar spine, diabetes, obesity, depression, chronic fatigue, and restless leg syndrome. Tr. 70.

         Except as noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. After carefully reviewing the medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. See Tr. 805-11.

         STANDARDS

         The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate her inability “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). The ALJ must develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when the record is inadequate to allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011)(quoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459B60 (9th Cir. 2001)).

         The district 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 as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is “relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Molina, 674 F.3d. at 1110-11 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). It is more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but less than a preponderance. Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).

         The ALJ is responsible for evaluating a claimant's testimony, resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         I. The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation

         At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). See also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).

         At Step Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant does not have any medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

         At Step Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, known as Listings, are enumerated in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (Listed Impairments).

         If the Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, she must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained, work-related physical and mental activities the claimant can still do on a regular and continuing basis despite her limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). See also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. A A 'regular and continuing basis' means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent schedule." SSR 96-8p, at *1. In other words, the Social Security Act does not require complete incapacity ...


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