United States District Court, D. Oregon
J. Wall, Caitlin S. Laumaker, Attorneys for Plaintiff.
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, Lisa Goldoftas, Special
Assistant United States Attorneys, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael H. Simon United States District Judge
O. (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”). For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based on the proper legal standards and the findings
are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989). “Substantial evidence” means
“more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Bray v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995)). It means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews, 53
F.3d at 1039).
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be
upheld. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a
rational reading of the record, and this Court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See
Batson v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d
1190, 1193, 1196 (9th Cir. 2004). “[A] reviewing court
must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quotation
marks omitted)). A reviewing court, however, may not affirm
the Commissioner on a ground upon which the Commissioner did
not rely. Id; see also Bray, 554 F.3d at 1226.
filed an application for DIB and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on May 19, 2014, alleging disability
beginning on May 22, 2014. AR 17, 79. Plaintiff was born in
June 1962 and was 52 years old as of the alleged disability
onset date. AR 297. He alleged disability due to pinched
nerves, hand surgery, depression, anxiety, and hepatitis C.
AR 314. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application
initially and upon reconsideration. AR 17. Plaintiff then
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Id. In a decision dated August
16, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not
disabled before June 19, 2017 but became disabled on that
date and has continued to be disabled through the date of the
decision. AR 17. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-6; see also 20
C.F.R. § 422.210(a). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of
that decision. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Sequential Analysis
claimant is 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); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (DIB); Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Each step is
potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
five-step sequential process asks the following series of
1. Is the claimant performing “substantial gainful
activity?” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). This
activity is work involving significant mental or physical
duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1510. If the claimant is performing such
work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment “severe”
under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An impairment or combination of
impairments is “severe” if it significantly
limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). Unless
expected to result in death, this impairment must have lasted
or be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12
months. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. If the claimant does not
have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment,
the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment “meet or
equal” one or more of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the
listed impairments, the analysis continues. At that point,
the ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to
assess and determine the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”). This is an
assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may
still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any
limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(b)-(c). After the ALJ
determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to
4. Can the claimant perform his or her “past relevant
work” with this RFC assessment? If so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her
past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and
work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment
to other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), ...