United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
F. BECKERMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
B. (“Plaintiff”) brings this appeal challenging
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's
(“Commissioner”) denial of her applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles
II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The Court has
jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's appeal pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons
explained below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's
district court may set aside a denial of benefits only if the
Commissioner's findings are “‘not supported
by substantial evidence or [are] based on legal
error.'” Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th
Cir. 2006)). Substantial evidence is defined as
“‘more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but
less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Id. (quoting Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)).
district court “cannot affirm the Commissioner's
decision ‘simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.'” Holohan v.
Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1201 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
1999)). Instead, the district court must consider the entire
record, weighing the evidence that both supports and detracts
from the Commissioner's conclusions. Id. Where
the record as a whole can support either a grant or a denial
of Social Security benefits, the district court
“‘may not substitute [its] judgment for the
[Commissioner's].'” Bray, 554 F.3d at
1222 (quoting Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149,
1152 (9th Cir. 2007)).
was born in September 1966, making her fifty years old on
October 6, 2016, the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 24,
143-44, 172.) Plaintiff is a high school graduate and has
completed one year of college. (Tr. 24, 356.) Plaintiff has
past relevant work experience as a credit union teller,
cashier-checker, cashier supervisor, fast food worker, and
delicatessen counter worker. (Tr. 104-05, 107, 110.) In her
applications for Social Security benefits, Plaintiff alleges
disability due to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), and back pain. (Tr. 143-44, 172.)
Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially
and upon reconsideration, and on July 21, 2017, Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 13.) Plaintiff and a vocational
expert (“VE”) appeared and testified at a hearing
held on March 20, 2018. (Tr. 83-118.) On April 11, 2018, the
ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's
applications for benefits. (Tr. 13-26.) Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of that decision.
THE SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS
claimant is considered disabled if he or 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). “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).
Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five of the
sequential analysis, 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, 180 F.3d at 1100. If the Commissioner fails
to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled.
Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954 (citations omitted).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine if Plaintiff is disabled. (Tr. 13-26.) At step one,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial
gainful activity from July 1, 2017, through September 30,
2017, but had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since October 1, 2017 (about one year after the alleged
disability onset date of October 6, 2016). (Tr. 16.) At step
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the
following severe impairments: “[L]umbar degenerative
disc disease; depression disorder; and anxiety
disorder.” (Tr. 16.) At step three, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or
equals a listed impairment. (Tr. 17.) The ALJ then concluded
that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, subject to these
limitations: (1) Plaintiff cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; (2) Plaintiff can occasionally stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; (3) Plaintiff can perform work involving
simple, routine tasks; (4) Plaintiff cannot have contact with
the general public; and (5) Plaintiff can have occasional
contact with co-workers. (Tr. 19-20.) At step four, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past
relevant work. (Tr. 24.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled because a significant number of
jobs existed in the national economy that she could perform,
including work as a photocopy machine operator, production
assembler, and mail sorter. (Tr. 25.)
appeal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing
to provide clear and convincing reasons for discounting
Plaintiff's symptom testimony; and (2) failing to provide
legally sufficient reasons for discounting the opinions of
Plaintiff's examining occupational therapist, Trevor Tash
(“Tash”), and treating nurse practitioner,
Tiffany McClean (“McClean”). As explained below,
the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision is free of
harmful legal error and supported by substantial evidence.
Accordingly, the Court affirms the Commissioner's
PLAINTIFF'S SYMPTOM TESTIMONY