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Ashley O. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

February 15, 2019

ASHLEY O., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Ashley O. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. I have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). For the reasons stated below, I AFFIRM the ALJ's decision.


         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB with a protective filing date of November 30, 2010, and an application for SSI benefits with a protective date of March 30, 2011. Tr. 1077. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on January 31, 2006. Id. Both claims were initially denied on June 24, 2011, and denied again upon reconsideration on April 2, 2012. Id. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Jo Hoenninger on July 25, 2013. Id. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims on August 13, 2013, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled, and the Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 22, 1077.

         Upon denial, Plaintiff requested review by this Court. Judge Marco A. Hernandez reversed and remanded Plaintiff's claim for further proceedings on April 18, 2016. Tr. 1136. Judge Hernandez concluded that “the record contain[ed] sufficient evidence to raise the possibility that Plaintiff may meet the criteria for 12.05C, but [did] not conclusively establish her entitlement to this finding.” Id. Specifically, Judge Hernandez noted that the validity of Plaintiff's IQ scores needed to be addressed by the ALJ, and that Plaintiff's educational and work history raised issues about whether onset of her impairment began before age twenty two.[2]Id.

         Following the ALJ's denial of her claims, Plaintiff filed subsequent claims for DIB and SSI benefits on November 17, 2014, and August 14, 2015 respectively. Tr. 1077. Per Judge Hernandez's order, the Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's case for a supplemental hearing on July 25, 2016, and the ALJ consolidated both the old and new claim files into a single record. Id. The supplemental hearing was held on May 23, 2017, and on August 25, 2017 the ALJ again issued a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 1077-89.


         The ALJ made her decision based upon the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. See Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520. At the first four steps of the process, the burden of proof is on the claimant; only at the fifth and final step does the burden of proof shift to the Commissioner. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.

         At Step One, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 31, 2006. Tr. 1078. At Steps Two and Three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments of back strain, borderline intellectual functioning, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder. But the ALJ found that none of these impairments alone or in combination met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 1080-83.

         Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC)

to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.97(c), except that she can frequently climb ramps and stairs, occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can frequently finger and handle with the right upper extremity. She can understand and remember simple instructions and make simple work-related decisions. She has sufficient concentration, persistence, and pace to complete simple, routine tasks for a normal workday and workweek with normal breaks. She should only have occasional, brief interactions with coworkers and the general public. She should have no over the shoulder supervision. She should be in a workplace with few changes to the work setting and work processes.

Tr. 1083.

         At Step Four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was incapable of performing any past relevant work. At Step Five, the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, and thus concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 1087-89.

         STANDARD ...

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