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Leroy M. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

September 10, 2019

CLINT LEROY M.,[1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). Because the Commissioner's decision is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record, the Court AFFIRMS the decision and DISMISSES this case.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on December 18, 1968 and was forty-four years old on August 9, 2013, the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 23, 34.[2] Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (“SSA” or “Act”) through December 31, 2013. Tr. 23. Plaintiff has a limited education and is unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 34. Plaintiff claims he is disabled based on conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, alcohol use disorder in remission, status-post fracture right posterior acetabulum, lumbar spine degenerative disc disease and L5-S1 spondylosis, cervical spine degenerative disc disease, and deep vein thrombosis. Tr. 24.

         Plaintiff's benefits application was denied initially on January 28, 2014, and upon reconsideration on July 17, 2014. Tr. 21. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Katherine Weatherly on June 16, 2016. Tr. 41-70. ALJ Weatherly issued a written decision on September 15, 2016, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to benefits. Tr. 35. The Appeals Council declined review, rendering ALJ Weatherly's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-6.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At step one, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines 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 not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's impairments, 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 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant 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. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 23.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had “the following severe impairments: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); major depressive disorder; gambling disorder; alcohol use disorder in remission; rule out borderline intellectual functioning; status-post fracture right posterior acetabulum; lumbar spine degenerative disc disease and L5-S1 spondylosis; cervical spine degenerative disc disease; right leg deep vein thrombosis; right hip labral tear status-post open reduction internal fixation (ORIF); and, after expiration of the date last insured, right lower extremity meralgia parestetica.” Tr. 24. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, benign prostatic hypertrophy, and colon polyps were not severe. Tr. 24.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have any impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 24.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) “to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except he can frequently climb ramps and stairs and only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; he can frequently balance, kneel, and crouch; he can occasionally stoop and crawl; he must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration and workplace hazards such as heights and heavy machinery; he can understand, remember, and carry out ...


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