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Elena I. S. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 17, 2019

ELENA I. S., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOLIE A. RUSSO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Elena S. brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income. All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate Judge enter final orders and judgement in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this case is dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         In April 2014, plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability as of April 28, 2006, due to bilateral carpal tunnel, asthma, arthritis, lumbago, varicose veins in both legs, left shoulder rotator cuff syndrome, back injury, neuropathy, osteochondroma, headaches, and irregular heartbeat. Tr. 113-14. Born in 1963, plaintiff was 42 years old as of the alleged onset date. Tr. 113.

         Plaintiff had previously applied for benefits. On April 14, 2010, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a partially favorable decision, finding that plaintiff was disabled for a closed period beginning on April 28, 2006, and ending on April 28, 2009. Tr. 91. The previous ALJ's decision was based on the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, asthma, minimal partial tear of the medial collateral ligament, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; however, the latter was no longer a severe impairment after April 28, 2009, due to medical improvement. Tr. 91, 94, 100.

         On November 16, 2016, a hearing was held before another ALJ based on plaintiff's 2014 applications, wherein plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 44-85. On December 16, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled from April 25, 2010, the day after the issuance of the prior ALJ's decision, through the date of the decision in question. Tr. 21-37. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-6.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted). The court must weigh “both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

         The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the 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).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process for evaluating whether a person is disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step two, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant has a “medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, she is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or equal “one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner resolves whether the claimant can still perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant can work, she is not disabled; if she cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national or local economy. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         THE ...


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