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Jean B. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

February 8, 2019

LORIETTA JEAN B., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). Because the Commissioner's decision is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record, the Court AFFIRMS the decision and DISMISSES this case.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on April 24, 1961 and was fifty-one years old on June 27, 2012, the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 113.[2] Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (“SSA” or “Act”) through December 31, 2013. Tr. 25. Plaintiff is able to perform past relevant work as a customer service representative, order clerk, front desk receptionist, and inventory control supervisor. Tr. 42. Plaintiff claims she is disabled based on conditions including pain from a past spinal fracture, high blood pressure, and depression. Tr. 247, 260.

         Plaintiff's benefits application was denied initially on April 21, 2014, and upon reconsideration on February 5, 2015. Tr. 23. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Rebecca Jones on July 28, 2016. Id.; Tr. 49-112. ALJ Jones issued a written decision on December 12, 2016, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled or entitled to benefits. Tr. 43. The Appeals Council declined review, rendering ALJ Jones' decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-6. The issue here is therefore whether the ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time period.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At the first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines 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), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's impairments, 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 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant 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. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 25. At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had “the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post open reduction internal fixation at ¶ 12-L1; length dependent sensory neuropathy; and hypertension.” Tr. 26. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have any impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 30. In particular, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's physical conditions did not meet the requirements of Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine), 4.00 (cardiovascular), or 11.14 (peripheral neuropathy). Id.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than the full range of light work. The ALJ noted that “[t]he claimant is able to occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She is able to occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant requires a sit/stand option, which is defined as the option to change position after 30 to 60 minutes for 3 to 5 minutes at a time while remaining on task.” Tr. 30-31.

         At step four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert to determine that Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a customer service representative, order clerk, front desk receptionist, and inventory control supervisor. Tr. 42. At step five, the ALJ further found that before Plaintiff turned fifty-five on April 23, 2016, “she was capable of performing other jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy.” Tr. 43.

         Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled from the alleged date of disability, June 27, 2012 through the date of the decision on December 12, 2016. Id.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only when the Commissioner's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence means 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.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts consider the record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id.; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). “Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be affirmed.” Vasquez, 572 F.3d at 591 (internal quotation marks omitted); see alsoMassach ...


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