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Kimberly S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

June 14, 2019

KIMBERLY S., [1] Plaintiff,


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge.

         Kimberly S, ("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") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on September 2, 2016. For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's Decision.


         Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB on January 10, 2014. Following denials at the initial and reconsideration levels, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") held a hearing and issued an unfavorable decision on September 2, 2016. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, Plaintiff filed a timely complaint in this Court seeking review of the ALJ's decision.


         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. See, 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).


         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; "Major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, cannabis use disorder, alcohol abuse, and personality disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c))." 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 perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: The claimant can perform jobs that allow her to avoid exposure to hazards such as work around moving machinery and work around unprotected heights. She can understand and remember short and simple job instructions. She can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. The claimant can maintain attention and concentration for two-hour intervals to complete such tasks without more than the normally expected brief interruptions. The claimant can never work in a noisy, busy, and crowded environment. She can perform jobs that involve no more than frequent one-on-one contact with coworkers and no direct one-on-one contact with the general public. Additionally, she can perform jobs that do not involve any work with or around children.

Tr. 25. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a hand packager. Although not required, the ALJ went on to make an alternative finding at step five and found that there were other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including janitor and agricultural ...

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