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Brenda G. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 30, 2019

BRENDA G., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



         Plaintiff Brenda G. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title 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.

         Plaintiff was 31 years old on her alleged onset date of May 15, 2008. Tr. 136, 346.[2] She completed her GED and some medical assistance training and has past work experience building crates and cleaning glass. Tr. 346-47. She alleged disability due to cervical lumbar back disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, sleep disorder, Graves disease, hypothyroidism, OCD, depression, and PTSD. Tr. 345.

         Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on May 28, 2015. Tr. 211. Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 262, 269. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and appeared for a hearing on March 10, 2017. Tr. 168-89. In a written decision dated June 15, 2017 the ALJ denied Plaintiff's applications. Tr. 120-24. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent petition for review, rendering the ALJ's decision final. Tr. 1-5.


         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).


         The Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) (2012). The burden of proof rests upon 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 demonstrate that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 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 May 28, 2015, the application date. Tr. 126. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: musculoskeletal conditions described as lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease, left shoulder fracture/injury status-post surgery, and mental health conditions variously described as bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, OCD, and substance addiction disorder. Id. 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.

         Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's RFC allowed her to perform light work with the following limitations:

[L]ifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sitting up to six hours in an eight-hour day; standing and walking six hours total in an eight-hour day; pushing and pulling as much as lifting and carrying, except pushing and pulling with the left upper extremity would be limited to the frequent level; the individual would be limited to reaching in all directions at the frequent level with the left upper extremity (the non-dominant extremity); the individual would be limited to handling frequently with the left upper extremity; climbing ladders and scaffolds limited to the occasional level; the individual would be limited to simple routine and repetitive tasks, and simple work related decisions; interaction with coworkers would be limited to the occasional level; interaction with the public would be limited to the superficial level (passing people in the hallways would be allowed but no direct contact as part of the day-to-day job duties).

Tr. 128. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. 135. 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. 136. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform the occupations of office helper, hand packager/inspector; and production assembler. Id. As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 137.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by: (I) failing to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence; (II) failing to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject her subjective symptom testimony; and (III) failing to properly consider new evidence submitted after the decision date.

         I. ...

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