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Carla V. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 25, 2019

CARLA V., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



         Plaintiff Carla V. (“Plaintiff’) brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s (“Commissioner’s”) decision denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) 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 discussed below, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.


         Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB on September 1, 2015, alleging disability beginning June 15, 2015. Tr. 13, 167, 172.[1] Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an ALJ and appeared before the Honorable S. Pines on June 12, 2017. Tr. 29-60. ALJ Pines denied Plaintiff’s application in a written decision dated July 20, 2017. Tr. 13-23. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which was denied, rendering the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the decision.


         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. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. Id. If the claimant satisfies her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id.; see also Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995). At step five, the Commissioner must show 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. §§ 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 is able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Id.; see also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953–54 (9th Cir. 2001).

         In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 15. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, obesity, and diabetes mellitus. Tr. 15. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 16.

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

The claimant can stand and walk for a combined total of less than 6 hours and can sit for 6 hours. The claimant could never balance. The claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant can occasionally use foot controls. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant should not have concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, vibration and hazards.

Tr. 17. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a cabinet assembler, dishwasher/janitor, fast food worker, or delicatessen counter worker. Tr. 22. 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 employment despite her impairments. Tr. 22-23. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform the representative occupations of table worker, bagger, and hand packager. Tr. 23. As a result, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Id.

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (I) erroneously discounting Plaintiff’s subjective symptom testimony; and (II) improperly rejecting the medical opinion evidence of Kristine Kruger, M.D.

         I. Subjective ...

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