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Leslie V. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 9, 2019

LESLIE V., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STACIE F. BECKERMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Leslie V. (“Plaintiff”) brings this appeal challenging the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The sole issue presented on appeal is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in his evaluation of the medical evidence. The Court has jurisdiction to hear this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates the review provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Born in September 1964, Plaintiff was 44 years old on her alleged onset date. (Tr. 54.) She has a high school education and past work experience as an activities director, a florist, a housekeeper, and a sales associate. (Tr. 167.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on May 9, 2014, alleging disability beginning January 31, 2009 due to an anxiety disorder and depression. (Tr. 54, 145, 149.) Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 86, 92.) Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on May 9, 2017. (Tr. 35-53.)

         In a written decision issued on April 26, 2017, the ALJ applied the five-step evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), and determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 16-28.) The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's petition for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff timely appealed to federal court.

         THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS I.LEGAL STANDARD

         A claimant is considered disabled if he or she is unable 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). “Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether an applicant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.” Keyser v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011). Those five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in any substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant can return to any past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 724-25. The claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001). If the claimant fails to meet the burden at any of those steps, the claimant is not disabled. Id.; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987).

         The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five of the process, where the Commissioner must show the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, “taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954 (citations omitted).

         II.THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if Plaintiff is disabled. (Tr. 19-28.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 31, 2009, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 19.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 20.) At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or equals a listed impairment. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following limitations: she can perform simple, routine tasks and make simple work-related decisions; she can frequently, but not continuously, respond appropriately to coworkers, supervisors, and the general public; and time off-task would be accommodated by normal breaks. (Tr. 22.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a housekeeping cleaner. (Tr. 27.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 27-28.)

         ANALYSIS

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court may set aside a denial of benefits only if the Commissioner's findings are “‘not supported by substantial evidence or [are] based on legal error.'” Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). Substantial evidence is defined as “‘more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a ...


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