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James A. K. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

November 5, 2019

JAMES A. K., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MARK D. CLARKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff James K. ("Plaintiff') seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administrations denying his claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons provided below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born October 5, 1990 and was twenty-three (23) when he filed his application for supplemental security income on July 3, 2014. Tr. 192. Plaintiff has an 11th grade education and did not obtain a GED. Tr. 70-71. Plaintiff does not have past relevant work experience and claims the only job he ever had was doing yard work for friends, Tr. 48-49. Plaintiff occasionally uses marijuana and metharnphetamine (Tr. 47), and has a history of homelessness and prostitution (Tr. 589). Plaintiff was put into foster care at age five and remained in the foster care system for the remainder of his childhood, Tr. 294, 483. There are some discrepancies in the record, but it appears that Plaintiff remained with one foster family for at least eight years before being transferred to a different foster care facility after a psychiatric hospital admission. Tr. 294.

         Plaintiff alleges disability due to mental, emotional, and behavioral limitations. In his application, Plaintiff alleges disability began on October 5, 2006 (Tr. 192), but claims in his brief that he received child SSI benefits up until May 9, 2011. Plf.'s Br. at 1 (#15). Two hearings concerning Plaintiffs disability application were held in Portland, Oregon. Tr. 23. At the first hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to May 9, 2011 at the advice of his attorney. Id. Plaintiff testified by phone at the first hearing because he was incarcerated in the Clackamas County Jail on a misdemeanor assault conviction for assaulting his girlfriend. Id. The hearing was continued to allow Plaintiff an opportunity to testify in person. Id. A second hearing was held on November 22, 2016. Id. On February 14, 2017, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Campbell issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 23-35. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is 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). Each step is potentially dispositive. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The five-step sequential process asks the following series of questions:

1. Is the claimant performing "substantial gainful activity"? 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). This activity is work involving significant mental or physical duties done or intended to be done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1510; 416.910. If the claimant is performing such work, she is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not performing substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two.
2. Is the claimant's impairment "severe" under the Commissioner's regulations? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Unless expected to result in death, an impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a); 416.921(a). This impairment must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1509; 416.909. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to step three.
3. Does the claimant's severe impairment "meet or equal" one or more of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment does not meet or equal one or more of the listed impairments, the analysis proceeds to the "residual functional capacity" ("RFC") assessment.
a. The ALJ must evaluate medical and other relevant evidence to assess and determine the claimant's RFC. This is an assessment of work-related activities that the claimant may still perform on a regular and continuing basis, despite any limitations imposed by his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e); 404.1545(b)-(c); 416.920(e); 416.945(b)-(c). After the ALJ determines the claimant's RFC, the analysis proceeds to step four.
4. Can the claimant perform his or her "past relevant work" with this RFC assessment? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to step five.
5. Considering the claimant's RFC and age, education, and work experience, is the claimant able to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant No. in the national economy? If so, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v); 404.1560(c); 416.960(c). If the claimant cannot perform such work, he or she is disabled. Id.

         See also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954-55 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Id. at 954. The Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five. Id. at 953-54. At step five, the Commissioner must show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant No. 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) (internal citations omitted); see also 20 C;F.R §§ 404.1566; 416.966 (describing "work which exists in the national economy"). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant No. in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954-55; Tackett, 180F.3datl099.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         Applying the five-step analysis, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 12, 2014, the application date. Tr. 25.
2. Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: depressive disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and polysubstance abuse. Tr. 25.
3. Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 26.
a. Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: He can do simple routine work with occasional contact with supervisors ...

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