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John B. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

November 8, 2019

JOHN B.[1] Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         John B. (Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act). This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff was born in 1985. On July 4, 2014, Plaintiff drove an all-terrain vehicle at high speed while intoxicated and collided with a tree. Tr. 256, Tr. 294. The impact threw Plaintiff, who was not wearing a helmet, twenty feet and fractured both femurs, left forearm, cervical spine, and facial bones, and caused a traumatic brain injury. Tr. 294, Tr. 601. Plaintiff underwent multiple surgeries and was hospitalized until August 25, 2014. Tr. 305.

         In August 2014, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability because of chronic pain and cognitive problems. After the agency denied Plaintiffs claim, Plaintiff received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in March 2017. In June 2017, the ALJ issued his decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. 13-27. After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, Plaintiff timely filed this action seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits.


         The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion and '"may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is "supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).


         The Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or 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). To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ uses a five-step sequential inquiry. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Here, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 2014, the alleged onset date. Tr.15.

         At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "fractures (legs, arm and cervical spine), organic brain syndrome and chemical dependency." Tr. 15.

         At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Tr. 16. The ALJ then assessed Plaintiffs residual functional capacity (RFC), finding that Plaintiff could "perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.967(b) except the claimant can stand and walk four hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can perform simple, routine tasks requiring a reasoning level of 1 or 2." Tr. 18.

         At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work. Tr. 25.

         At step five, the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. Bustamonte v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 1999). Here, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including the representative occupations of photocopy machine operator; office helper; and assembler, small products I. Tr. 26. The ALJ therefore found Plaintiff had not been disabled from July 2014 until June 2017, the date of the ALJ's decision.


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in (1) not giving proper weight to the medical opinions of Sushanth Nayak, M.D., and William McConochie, Ph.D.; and (2) failing to provide clear and convincing ...

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