United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael J. McShane United States District Judge
brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff’s
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). Tr. 536–65. This Court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). Because the Commissioner’s decision is
based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial
evidence, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
filed an initial application for DIB in November 2012. Tr.
183–89, 78. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset
beginning April 10, 2012 due to lower back pain, shoulder and
neck pain, learning disabilities, and a “tear in
L4-5.” Id. The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) assigned to the initial claim issued a
decision denying Plaintiff benefits. Tr. 11–31.
However, because the ALJ failed to consider certain evidence
at the initial hearing the parties stipulated to a remand.
Tr. 648– 49, 655–57.
waiting for the remand hearing, Plaintiff submitted a new
application for benefits. Tr. 539, 722. A second ALJ
consolidated the remanded case and the new application. Tr.
539. The remand hearing took place in November 2017. Tr.
566–90. On February 22, 2018, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff’s claim for benefits. Tr. 536–65. This
latest decision is now before the Court.
reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner’s
decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards
and is supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm’r for 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)). When
determining if substantial evidence exists, this Court
reviews the entire administrative record, weighing both
supporting and deterring evidence from the ALJ’s
conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772
(9th Cir. 1986). The ALJ may “reject the
claimant’s testimony about the severity of her symptoms
only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for
doing so.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d
487, 488–89 (9th Cir. 2015).
Commissioner’s findings are upheld if supported by
inferences reasonably drawn from the record; if evidence
exists to support more than one rational interpretation, the
court must defer to the Commissioner’s decision.
Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193; Aukland v.
Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1034–35 (9th Cir. 2000).
A reviewing court, however, “cannot affirm the
Commissioner’s decision on a ground that the
Administration did not invoke in making its decision.”
Stout v. Comm’r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d
1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). A court may
not reverse an ALJ’s decision on account of a harmless
error. Id. at 1055–56. “[T]he burden of
showing that an error is harmful normally falls upon the
party attacking the agency’s determination.”
Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409 (2009). The
ALJ is the final arbiter with respect to resolving
ambiguities in the medical evidence. Tommasetti v.
Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008). Finally,
the ALJ need not discuss all evidence presented, but must
explain why significant probative evidence has been rejected.
See Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006,
1012 (9th Cir. 2003) (“[I]n interpreting the evidence
and the record, the ALJ does not need to discuss every piece
of evidence.” (internal quotations and citations
claimant is disabled if they are 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). The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a
five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920,
404.1520. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant
to meet the first four steps. If claimant satisfies his or
her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id. At step
five, the Commissioner’s burden is to demonstrate the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work after
considering the claimant’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience.
Id. If the reviewing agency determines that the
claimant is or is not disabled at any step of the evaluation
process, the evaluation will not go onto the next step.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not engaged in
substantially gainful activity. Tr. 542. At step two, the ALJ
found Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the spine, status post 2013
lumbar surgery, carpal tunnel syndrome status post right
release, obstructive sleep apnea, morbid obesity, and
headaches. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that
none of Plaintiff’s impairments or combination of
impairments met or medically equaled the criteria of a
listing. Tr. 545–46.
to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s RFC and
found that Plaintiff could perform light work as defined in
20 CFR § 404.1567(b), so long as Plaintiff had the
ability to sit and stand at will while remaining on task, was
limited in weight occasionally carried to twenty pounds, and
could only carry out simple routine and repetitive tasks. Tr.
546. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not
perform any past relevant work. Tr. 555. At step five, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform the jobs of photocopy
machine operator, collator operator, and inserting machine
operator, all jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
economy. Tr. 555–56. The ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled. Tr. 556–57.
argues the ALJ erred in three ways. First, that the ALJ
incorrectly evaluated Plaintiff’s cognitive impairment
by failing to consider it severe at step two. Pl’s Br.
7, ECF No. 13. Second, that the ALJ erred at step three by
failing to find that Plaintiff’s current intellectual
and adaptive functioning deficits, which began prior to age
twenty-two, continue to this day. Id. at 12. Third,
that the ALJ failed to provide specific, clear, and
convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence in
discounting Plaintiff’s subjective testimony.
Id. at 17.