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Derek W. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

July 9, 2019

DEREK W., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ann Aiken, United States District Judge

         DEREK W. ("Plaintiff) brings this action under 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 applications for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") on July 25, 2016 and July 28, 2016, respectively. For the reasons below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied separately for SSI and DIB in November 2014. Following denials at the initial and reconsideration levels, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") held hearings and issued unfavorable decisions in July 2016. After the Appeals Council denied his 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). 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).

         COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

         The initial burden of proof rests on a claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, a claimant must show 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 must 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 from his alleged onset date of October 16, 2009 through his date of last insured of December 31, 2010 for his DIB application. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity for his SSI application since November 12, 2013. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease. 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 light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) in which he lifts and carries up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sits, stands, or walks for six hours each in an eight hour day; occasionally climbs ramps or stairs; never climbs ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balances; occasionally kneels, stoops, or crouches; never crawls; and has no more than occasional exposure to vibrations and hazards such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights.

Tr. 26. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform 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 office helper, photocopy machine operator, and ticket ...


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