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Julia S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

March 25, 2019

JULIA S., [1]Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANN AIKEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Julia O. (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on July 25, 2016. For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's Decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on May 28, 2013. Following denials at the initial and reconsideration levels, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held two hearings and issued an unfavorable decision on July 25, 2016. After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court on September 4, 2018 seeking review of the ALJ's decision.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides for judicial review of the Social Security Administration's disability determinations: “The court shall have power to enter . . . a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” In reviewing the ALJ's findings, district courts act in an appellate capacity not as the trier of fact. Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 604 (9th Cir. 1989). The district court must affirm the ALJ's decision unless it contains legal error or lacks substantial evidentiary support. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Stout v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006)). Harmless legal errors are not grounds for reversal. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The complete record must be evaluated and the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion must be weighed. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner must be affirmed, because “the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

         COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the Plaintiff to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the Plaintiff 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).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to employ a five-step sequential analysis, determining: “(1) whether the claimant is ‘doing substantial gainful activity'; (2) whether the claimant has a ‘severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment' or combination of impairments that has lasted for more than 12 months; (3) whether the impairment ‘meets or equals' one of the listings in the regulations; (4) whether, given the claimant's ‘residual functional capacity,' the claimant can still do his or her ‘past relevant work' and (5) whether the claimant ‘can make an adjustment to other work.'” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a)).

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of disability through the date she was last insured. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe limitations: “degenerative disc disease; cervicalgia; fibromyalgia; psychotic disorder; anxiety; and adjustment disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).” Tr. 22. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the requirements of a listed impairment.

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that Plaintiff

has the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). She could lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently in an eight-hour workday. She could stand and/or walk for six hours and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. She could perform simple routine repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work. She could perform low-stress work, which is defined as work that required only few decisions and changes throughout the workday. She could have occasional contact with co-workers. She could have occasional superficial contact with the public.

Tr. 25. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC and found that there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including hand packager and ...


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