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Jasmine B v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 7, 2019

JASMINE B., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          BRIAN SCOTT WAYSON, Cascadia Disability Law LLC, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS, United States Attorney, RENATA GOWIE, Assistant United States Attorney, MICHAEL W. PILE, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, JOSEPH JOHN LANGKAMER, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Social Security Administration, Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BROWN, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jasmine B. seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which she denied Plaintiff's application for 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

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on June 4, 2014, and alleged a disability onset date of June 16, 1992. Tr. 184.[2] Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on January 25, 2017. Tr. 41-75. At the hearing the ALJ amended Plaintiff's onset date to April 17, 2014. Tr. 45. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing, and Plaintiff was represented by an attorney.

         On March 9, 2017, the ALJ issued an opinion in which she found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 25-36. On March 19, 2018, that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-6. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on June 16, 1992, and was 24 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 184. Plaintiff has a high-school education. Tr. 51. Plaintiff does not have any past relevant work experience. Tr. 69.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to an anxiety disorder with panic attacks, borderline intellectual functioning, and depression. Tr. 27.

         Except when 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. 17, 31-33.

         STANDARDS

         The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9thCir. 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, 459-60 (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 determining credibility, 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

         The Commissioner has developed a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir.2007). See also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Each step is potentially dispositive.

         At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). 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. § 416.920(c). 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 a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe they preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 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. § 416.945(a). See also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. “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 to be disabled. Taylor v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 659 F.3d 1228, 1234-35 (9th Cir. 2011)(citing Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir. 1989)).

         At Step Four the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant retains the RFC to perform work she has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

         If the Commissioner reaches Step Five, she must determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work that exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. Here the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Lockwood v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d 1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010). The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a VE or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines set forth in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 2. If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)(1).

         ALJ'S FINDINGS

         At Step One the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her April 17, 2014, amended alleged onset date. Tr. 27.

         At Step Two the ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning, depression, and an “anxiety disorder with associated panic attacks.” Tr. 27. The ALJ found Plaintiff's conditions of obesity and back pain are nonsevere. Tr. 27.

         At Step Three the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal the criteria for any Listed Impairment from 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. The ALJ found Plaintiff has the RFC to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels” with the following limitations: never interacting with the general public or “perform[ing] any task that would require team work”; never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds or working around unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; and only occasionally interacting with coworkers “such as brief conversations.” Tr. 29. The ALJ also found Plaintiff can “understand, remember and carry out tasks or instructions consistent with occupations with an SVP level of 1 to 2[;] . . . make simple work related decisions[; and] only work in an environment with few workplace changes.” Tr. 29.

         At Step Four the ALJ found Plaintiff does not have any past relevant work. Tr. 34.

         At Step Five the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 35. ...


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