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Tom M. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division

July 23, 2019

TOM M., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Ann Aiken United States District Judge.

         Tom M. ("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 February 24, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's Decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on April 13, 2014. Following denials at the initial and reconsideration levels, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") held a hearing and issued an unfavorable decision. 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. Bamhart, 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, 140 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 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 determinate 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: "amblyopia and blepharitis (20 CFR 404.1520(c)) ." Tr. 17. 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.P.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: he is limited to no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he must avoid even moderate exposure to hazards (i.e., dangerous machinery, unprotected heights); he is limited to no exposure to more than moderate light, typical office-type light and indoor job only, air conditioned, clear air environment; and he is limited to no exposure to dust particles, particulates, fumes, and wind.

Tr. 18. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a field hauler, tank truck driver, and security guard. At step five the ALJ found there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff was capable of performing, specifically identifying the representative occupations of cashier II, storage facility rental clerk, furniture rental consultant, and ...


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