United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
MARTHA M. W.,  Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
EVANS Evans & Evans, PC Attorney for Plaintiff
J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant
United States Attorney District of Oregon SARAH MARTIN
Special Assistant United States Attorney Office of the
General Counsel Social Security Administration Attorneys for
OPINION AND ORDER
MUSTAFA T. KASUBHAI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
W. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits under (“DIB”) under
Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). This court has
jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3).
All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to
enter final orders and judgment in this case in accordance
with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
protectively filed for DIB on April 15, 2015, alleging
disability beginning June 8, 2014. Tr. 52, 187. Her
application was denied initially, and upon reconsideration.
Tr. 107-35. On February 8, 2017, a hearing was held before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 66-106.
Plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert
(“VE”). Id. On April 11, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 49. On
February 27, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision, the final
decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1. Plaintiff timely filed
this request for district court review.
June 4, 1953, Plaintiff was 61 years old at the time of her
alleged disability onset. Tr. 107. Plaintiff completed two
years of college and has degrees in respiratory therapy and
registered nursing. Tr. 71, 229. She worked in various
nursing capacities at an assisted living center from 2002
through 2013, taking on more of a managerial and behavior
risk management role in 2004 due to pains in her hands. Tr.
72, 75-76, 208, 229. Beginning in April 2014, Plaintiff
underwent eight laser eye surgeries to correct retinal tears,
macular puckering, and cataracts. Tr. 80, 406-92, 503-14. She
alleged disability due to low level vision from scarring of
retina and macula, dissociated nystagmus, depression, and
rheumatoid arthritis of her hands, spine, and knees. Tr. 228.
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. Hammock
v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal
quotations omitted). The court must weigh “both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
[Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). “Where
the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a
denial, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the
ALJ's.” Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149,
1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must
demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected . . . to
last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. First, the Commissioner determines whether a
claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful
activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not
two, the Commissioner evaluates 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). If the claimant does not have a
medically determinable, severe impairment, he is not
three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's
impairments, either 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 140-41; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If so, the
claimant is presumptively disabled. Yuckert, 482
U.S. at 141.
claimant's impairments are not equivalent to one of the
enumerated impairments, between the third and fourth steps
the ALJ is required to assess the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), based on all the
relevant medical and other evidence in the claimant's
record. See20 C.F.R § 404.1520(e). The RFC is
an estimate of the claimant's capacity to perform
sustained, work-related physical and/or mental activities on
a regular and continuing basis, despite limitations imposed
by the claimant's impairments. See §
404.1545; see also SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184.
four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can
still perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(f). If the claimant can work, he is not
disabled; if he cannot perform past relevant work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner.
five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can
perform other work existing in significant numbers in the
national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141
- 42; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner meets
this burden, the claimant is not disabled.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 8, 2014, the alleged
onset date. Tr. 54. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff met the
insured status requirements through December 31, 2018.
two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had severe visual impairment.
Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's
Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes in her hands were
non-severe, but that Plaintiff's conditions of bilateral
hand disorder and depression were not medically determinable
impairments. Tr. 54-55.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“The Listing”).
the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform:
a full range a work at all exertional levels but with the
following non-exertional limitations: [s]he should have no
exposure to hazards, such as moving mechanical parts,
unprotected heights or operate a motor vehicle as part of her
work duties. She can perform tasks that involve occasional
near and far visual acuity. She can perform tasks that
involve occasional field of vision.
four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any
past relevant work. Tr. 59. At step five, based on the
VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff would
be able to perform the jobs of Hospital Cleaner, and Laundry
Laborer, both of which existed in significant numbers in the
national economy. Tr. 60.
alleges the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly discrediting her
subjective symptom claims; (2) improperly discrediting the
lay witness testimony of Plaintiff's husband; (3)
improperly weighing medical opinion evidence; and (4) failing
to account for all of Plaintiff's impairments in the RFC.