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Clarence L. v. Commissioner Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

March 30, 2019

CLARENCE L., [1] Plaintiff,


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Clarence L. 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 previously denied plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         On May 7, 2013, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning February 5, 2013, due to a shattered femur in the left leg caused by a gunshot wound, anxiety, and nerve pain. His claims were denied initially on September 23, 2013, and on reconsideration on April 30, 2014. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). An administrative hearing was held on September 30, 2015, where plaintiff was represented by counsel. Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified at the hearing. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled under the Act in a written decision issued November 02, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed the present complaint in this Court.


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based upon proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "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 Soc. Sec, 740 F, 3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." 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." Edhtnd v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         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).

         The 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(a)(4); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since February 5, 2013, the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 24; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease, right knee osteoarthritis and meniscal tear, left femur fracture status post reconstructive surgery, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse." Tr. 24; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c). At step three, the ALJ determined plaintiff's impairments, whether considered singly or collectively, did not meet or equal "one of the listed impairments" that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr. 24-25; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). In addition to other limitations not relevant to this appeal, the ALJ found plaintiff was able to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can frequently push, pull, and operate foot control with his left lower extremity. He can frequently crawl, crouch, stoop, balance, and climb ramps and stairs . . . occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds . . . [but] is limited to performing simple, routine tasks and making simple work-related decisions. He is limited to frequent interactions with supervisors, coworkers, and the public

Tr. 26. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work. Tr. 33; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, however, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a mail room sorter, routing clerk, or agricultural produce sorter. Tr. 34; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g)(1). Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied his applications for benefits.


         Plaintiff contends in this Court that the ALJ committed harmful error in failing to further develop the record and obtain new expert opinions regarding plaintiffs ...

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