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Jeanmarie W. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 27, 2019

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

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL McSHANE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jeanmarie W. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) decision denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). For the reasons below, the Commissioner's final decision is affirmed.

         Born in July 1977, Plaintiff was 36 years old on her alleged onset date of January 30, 2014. Tr. 301, 306.[2] She completed one year of college as well as a medical assisting course for the state of California, and a real estate course. Tr. 306. Plaintiff has past work experience as a bank teller, cashier, business operations specialist, correctional officer, and realtor. Tr. 307. She alleged disability due to Dercum's disease, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, osteoarthritis, myalgia and myositis, depressive disorder, ankle pain, and chronic pain. Tr. 305.

         Plaintiff filed her applications for SSI and DIB on April 9, 2014. Tr. 54, 277-89. Both claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 183-87. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and appeared for a hearing on April 10, 2017. Tr. 77-106. In a written decision dated June 8, 2017 the ALJ denied Plaintiff's applications. Tr. 54-70. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent petition for review, rendering the ALJ's decision final. Tr. 3-8. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “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.'” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, a court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989).

         DISCUSSION

         The Social Security Administration uses a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4) (2012). The burden of proof fall to the claimant at steps one through four, and with the Commissioner at step five. Id; Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999)). At step five, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can make an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled. Id. If, however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant can perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Id; see also Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54.

         The ALJ performed the sequential evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since January 30, 2014, her alleged onset date. Tr. 56. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bilateral ankle osteoarthritis, multilevel cervical degenerative disc disease, mild lumbar degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, obesity, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Tr. 57. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of the listings. Tr. 27; 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 59.

         Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiffs RFC allowed for light work with these limitations:

[Plaintiff] is able to perform pushing, pulling, lifting and/or carrying of twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds or less frequently. She is able to sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. She is able to stand and/or walk for up to six hours each total in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. She is able to perform occasional reaching overhead bilaterally. She is able to climb ramps and stairs occasionally, but she should avoid climb[ing] ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She is able to perform work limited to occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. She is able to perform work limited to simple, routine tasks and making simple work-related decisions. She is able to perform work limited to no more than occasional exposure to working in the vicinity of supervisors, co-workers, and the public. She is able to perform work limited to simple, work-related decisions. The claimant's time off can be accommodated by normal breaks.

Tr. 62.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. 68. At step five, the ALJ found that based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy such that Plaintiff could sustain substantial gainful employment despite her impairments. Tr. 69. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform the representative occupations of small products assembler, laboratory sample carrier, and garment folder. Id. As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 70.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by: (I) improperly evaluating the medical evidence; (II) failing to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject her subjective symptom testimony; (III) failing to find her migraines and Dercum's disease to be severe at step two; and (IV) erroneously concluding ...


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