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Malaki B. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 30, 2019

MALAKI B., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Malaki B. brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commission of Social Security ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner denied Plaintiffs claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


         On March 19, 2013, plaintiff applied for SSI. She alleged disability due to moderate degenerative disc disease that began in 2010. Plaintiff appeared in front of an administrative law judge ("AU") on April 7, 2015, following denial of her application at the initial and reconsideration levels. During the hearing, plaintiff moved to amend the alleged onset date of her disability to March 19, 2013. On May 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Plaintiff requested the agency's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision and submitted new evidence for consideration. The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review on January 8, 2018, which made the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff now seeks review of the final decision in this Court.


         42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides for judicial review of the Social Security Administration's disability determinations: "The court shall have power to enter ... a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing," In reviewing the ALJ's findings, district courts act in an appellate capacity not as the trier of fact. Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 604 (9th Cir. 1989). The district court must affirm the ALJ's decision unless it contains legal error or lacks substantial evidentiary support. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Stout v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006)). Harmless legal errors are not grounds for reversal. Burch v. Bamhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "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," Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The complete record, must be evaluated and the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion must be weighed. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         The initial burden of proof rests upon a claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected ... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to employ a five-step sequential analysis, determining: "(1) whether the claimant is 'doing substantial gainful activity'; (2) whether the claimant has a 'severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment' or combination of impairments that has lasted for more than 12 months; (3) whether the impairment 'meets or equals' one of the listings in the regulations; (4) whether, given the claimant's 'residual functional capacity', the claimant can still do his or her 'past relevant work'; and (5) whether the claimant 'can make an adjustment to other work."' Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a)).

         At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since her application date. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiffs severe impairment was "degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine." Tr. 103. The ALJ also found that the right lateral malleolar fracture, contusion to her right forearm, and fracture of the distal phalanx of her right small finger would not cause any severe functional limitations and were therefore not severe impairments. The ALJ notes that the contusion to her right arm sustained during a car accident in 2014 has not persisted for more than 12 months, and therefore, even if the injury has resulted in a significant decrease of function in her right arm, it does not meet the requirements of a severe impairment.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that the plaintiffs impairment does not meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416, 920(d); § 416.925; § 416.926. The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id. § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that Plaintiff

has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except that she can frequently climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds or stoop. She is limited to simple, routine tasks equivalent to SVP 1 or SVP2 1 type work.

TR. 104

         At step four, the ALJ found that the plaintiff does not have any past relevant work. Tr. 111. At step five, the ALJ determined with a vocational expert that, considering plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including laundry laborer, bakery worker, and small ...

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