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Evelia C. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 18, 2019

EVELIA C.,[1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          STACIE F. BECKERMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Evelia C. (“Plaintiff”) brings this appeal challenging the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34. The only issue presented on appeal is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in making her step five findings. The Court has jurisdiction to hear this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the district judge should AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Born in January 1969, Plaintiff was 47 years old on her alleged onset date. (Tr. 196.) She completed twelfth grade and has past work experience as a baker. (Tr. 224-25.)

         Plaintiff applied for DIB on March 23, 2016, alleging disability beginning December 22, 2015 due to tendonitis in her hands and little to no gripping ability. (Tr. 196, 223.) Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 106, 112.) Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 2, 2017. (Tr. 36-76.)

         In a written decision issued on January 22, 2018, the ALJ applied the five-step evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 21-35.) The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's petition for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff timely appealed to federal court.

         THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         A claimant is considered disabled if 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). Those five steps are: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in any substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant can return to any past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 724-25. The claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001). If the claimant fails to meet the burden at any of those steps, the claimant is not disabled. Id.; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987).

         The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five of the process, where the Commissioner must show the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, “taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954 (citations omitted).

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if Plaintiff is disabled. (Tr. 23-29.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 22, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 24.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of mild degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine, cervical stenosis, obesity, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or equals a listed impairment. (Id.) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following limitations: she “should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds[, ]” “not work around hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery[, ]” and is “limited to occasional handling and fingering.” (Id.)

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 27.) At step five, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the functional capacity to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy including bakery worker, machine laminator, and usher. ...


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