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Lynn D. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 3, 2019

TAMRA LYNN D., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MERRILL SCHNEIDER Schneider Kerr & Robichaux Attorneys for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel JEFFREY E. STAPLES Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tamara Lynn D. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and 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

         On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB and SSI benefits. Tr. 16.[2] Plaintiff alleges a disability onset date of April 20, 2011. Tr. 16, 326, 328. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held hearings on June 20, 2016; October 4, 2016; and November 4, 2016. Tr. 36-108. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing on October 4, 2016, and a medical expert testified at the hearing on November 4, 2016. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at each of the hearings.

         On January 4, 2017, the ALJ issued an opinion in which he found Plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 16-29. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. On March 13, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         On May 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on June 22, 1967. Tr. 28, 326, 328. Plaintiff was 43 years old on her alleged disability onset date. Tr. 28. Plaintiff has at least a high-school education. Tr. 28. Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a bus driver and general office-worker. Tr. 27.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to low back pain, sciatica, anxiety, depression, migraines, high blood pressure, asthma, and bilateral carpal-tunnel syndrome. Tr. 109.

         Except as 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. 23-27.

         STANDARDS

         The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 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, 614 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 evaluating a claimant's testimony, 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

         At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a) (4) (i). 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. §§404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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 the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 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. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). 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 *l. In other words, the Social Security Act does not require complete incapacity to ...


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