United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL W. MOSMAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Tami R. ("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). 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.
filed her application for DIB and SSI with the Commissioner
on September 26, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of
October 26, 1999. The DIB and SSI claims were initially
denied on December 10, 2013, and again upon reconsideration
on May 13, 2014. Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a
hearing on June 17, 2014. An ALJ held a hearing on October 6,
2015, in which Plaintiff was represented by council and
testified, as did a Vocational Expert. Plaintiff provided
additional evidence after the hearing. See Tr.
1309-11. The ALJ issued a decision on January 5, 2016,
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined by the
Social Security Act ("the Act"), during the period
from October 26, 1999 until the date of the decision. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. After
receiving an extension of time from the Commissioner,
Plaintiff timely filed for review in this Court. Plaintiff
brings this claim pro se.
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. Id. at
One, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of
October 26, 1999. At Step Two, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease, migraines, right carpal tunnel
syndrome, and chronic kidney stones. Tr. 24. Severe
impairments are those that "significantly limit [a
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). The ALJ's
determination that a claimant has a severe impairment does
not mean that the claimant is disabled. At Step Three, the
ALJ is tasked with determining if one or more of a
claimant's severe impairments "meets or equals"
one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the
SSA regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). In
this case, the ALJ determined at Step Three that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 24. Next,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, with the ability to
frequently perform handling, fingering, and feeling with the
hand. Tr. 25. Plaintiffs RFC also included the ability to
frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. Id. The RFC contained the
restriction that Plaintiff could never climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds. Id. The ALJ found at Step Four that
Plaintiff did not have any past relevant work. Tr. 36. At
Step Five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of
performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. Id. Because the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform work that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy, Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.
review the ALJ's decision to ensure the ALJ applied
proper legal standards and that the ALJ's findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Bray v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (explaining
that the ALJ's decision must be supported by substantial
evidence and not based on legal error).
'"Substantial evidence' means more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Astrue,
504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v.
Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)).
The Commissioner's decision must be upheld if it is a
rational interpretation of the evidence, even if there are
other possible rational interpretations. Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the
evidence can support affirming the ALJ's decision, the
reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of
the ALJ. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.
cases involving a plaintiff proceeding pro se, courts must
construe the pleadings liberally and afford the plaintiff the
benefit of any doubt. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007).
Plaintiffs Brief  liberally, she argues the ALJ erred by
(1) failing to develop the record fully, as required by 20
C.F.R. § 416.945; and (2) improperly discounting
Plaintiffs testimony about the debilitating effects of her
pain. If the ALJ improperly discounted Plaintiff's
symptom testimony, this error would warrant remand because
the RFC did not account for the level and frequency of pain
reported by Plaintiff.
The ALJ's Development of the Medical Record
first argument in support of remand relies on her reading of
20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(3), which states that the
Commissioner is "responsible for developing your
complete medical history, including arranging for a
consultative examination(s) if necessary, and making every
reasonable effort to help you get medical reports from your
own medical sources." Plaintiff claims that the
Commissioner did not perform "due diligence ...