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Angelina R. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

May 6, 2019

ANGELINA R., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ann Aiken, United States District Judge.

         Angelina R. ("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 Plaintiffs application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on April 4, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's Decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI on June 23, 2014. Following denials at the initial and reconsideration levels, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") held a hearing and issued an unfavorable decision on April 4, 2017. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, Plaintiff filed a timely complaint in this Court 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). 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 a claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, a 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).

         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. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe limitations: "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; and status post spinal fractures." Tr. 23. 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 Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that Plaintiff

has the [RFC] to to perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a), that does not require more than frequent reaching, handling, fingering, pushing, or pulling; that does not require more than occasional climbing of ramps or stairs; that does not require more than occasional operation of foot control; that does not require climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; that does not require exposure to unprotected heights or extreme temperatures; that does not require more than occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts, motor vehicles operation, humidity, wetness, vibration, or pulmonary irritants; that consists of simple, routine tasks; that does not require more than occasional, superficial interaction with coworkers, supervisors, or the general public; and that does not require adaptation to more than occasional. . . changes in work situation or work setting.

Tr. 25. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ found that there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including touch up screener, cutter/paster press clippings, and table ...


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