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Muhammad v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 20, 2019

SULUMON MACDANIEL MUHAMMAD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARK D. CLARKEUNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Sulumon Muhammad seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administrations denying his applications for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to magistrate jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision is

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born February 13, 1966 and has a 10th grade education. Tr. 46. Plaintiff has past work as an unskilled caregiver, ditch-digger, dishwasher, and fast-food cashier. Tr. 48-49, 68-70, 191, 489, 623. Plaintiff alleges disability due to chronic complete left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear with severe left knee degenerative joint disease, bilateral foot neuropathy, bilateral first metatarsal degenerative joint disease, chronic hip strain, chronic low back pain, asthma, learning disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Plf. Br. at 6 (#17). Plaintiff is addicted to alcohol and drugs, but claims to be disabled independent of substance use. Plf. Br. at 6-7.

         Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on June 13, 2014, alleging disability beginning May 15, 2005. Tr. 17, 74. His application was initially denied on March 20, 2015, and upon reconsideration on November 3, 2015. Tr. 17. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing. Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on March 15, 2017 before an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the hearing, Plaintiffs representative amended his alleged onset date to his protective filing date of June 13, 2014. Tr. 17. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 19, 2017. Tr. 17-38. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-5, 7. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is disabled if he or 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). "Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act." Keyser v. Comm 'r. Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential process asks the following series of questions:

1. Is the claimant performing "substantial gainful activity"? 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510; 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment "severe" under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(H); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Unless expected to result in death, an impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a); 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1509; 416.909. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(H); 416.920(a)(4)(H). If the claimant has a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment "meet or equal" one or more of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds to the "residual functional capacity" ("RFC") assessment.
a. The ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine the claimant's RFC. This is an assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 416.920(e); 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her "past relevant work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant No. in the national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v); 404.1560(c); ...

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