United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, Chief United States District Judge
Patricia A. challenges the Commissioner's decision
denying her claim for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. I have jurisdiction under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Administrative Law
Judge's decision. For the reasons stated below I AFFIRM
the ALJ's decision.
filed an application for Title II Disability Insurance
Benefits ("DIB") on January 26, 2015, and for Title
XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on June
23, 2017, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2007. Tr.
158-59, 185-86. Plaintiffs claim was initially denied on June
2, 2015, and upon reconsideration on December 4, 2015. Tr.
89-94, 96-98, On June 26, 2017, Plaintiff attended a hearing
before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Rudolph
Murgo. Tr. 41. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged
onset date to January 1, 2015. Tr. 60. On October 4, 2017,
Judge Murgo issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Tr. 34-35. Plaintiff appealed that decision on
November 15, 2017, and that appeal was denied by the Appeals
Council on August 28, 2018. Tr. 1-3, 154-55. Plaintiff now
comes before this Court seeking to overturn the ALJ's
was born in 1958 and was 56 years old at the time she alleges
her disability began on January 1, 2015. She has past work
experience as a cashier, a caregiver, a dental assistant, and
as a customer service representative. Tr. 57. Plaintiff has
suffered from arthritis and Hepatitis C, among other
ailments. See Tr. 199.
made various findings along the five-step sequential
evaluation process established by the Secretary of Health and
Human Services. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137,
140-42 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 (establishing the
five-step evaluative process for SSI claims). Tr. 24-34.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial
gainful activity between April 1, 2015, and June 30, 2015
(the second quarter of 2015), but has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since. Tr. 24. He noted that
claimant's reported earnings fell from $3, 797 in the
second quarter of 2015, to $1, 940 in the third quarter of
2015, and then to $33 in the fourth quarter of 2015.
Id At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: inflammatory arthritis; chronic
liver disease; and spine disorders. Tr. 24, The ALJ found
that Plaintiffs diagnoses of depression and anxiety were
non-severe. Tr. 25.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. Tr. 26.
steps three and four, the ALJ described Plaintiffs Residual
Functional Capacity ("RFC") as follows:
Claimant [can] . . . perform light work . . . except: She can
lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally, and lift/carry 10 pounds
frequently. She can stand/walk for six hours total in an
eight-hour workday. She can sit for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. She can occasionally climb ramps/stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can never climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds. She is limited to frequent bilateral
handling and fingering. She should avoid all exposure to
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past
relevant work as a cashier, dental assistant, and customer
service representative. Tr. 34.
the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant
work, he did not conduct a step five analysis, and concluded
that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social
Security Act. Tr. 34.
review the ALJ's decision to ensure the ALJ applied
proper legal standards and that the ALJ's findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Bray v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (explaining
that the ALJ's decision must be supported by substantial
evidence and not based on legal error).
'"Substantial evidence' means more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.55 Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504
F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Robbins v. Soc.
Sec, Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). A judge
must uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is a
rational interpretation of the evidence, even if there are
other possible rational interpretations. Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The reviewing
court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.
makes three main arguments for why the ALJ erred in reaching
his finding that Plaintiff was not disabled: (1) the ALJ
improperly rejected the opinions of reviewing doctors K.
McAuliffe, M.D., and Lauhna Ude, Ph.D.; (2) the ALJ failed to
properly assess Plaintiffs recent past work; and (3) the ALJ
improperly assessed Plaintiffs depression and anxiety at Step
Two and thus failed to incorporate relevant limitations into
her RFC. PL's Opening Br. [ECF 12] at 5. Because of these
purported errors, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's
decision should be reversed and remanded for the immediate
payment of benefits. Id. at 17.
first two arguments point to errors in the ALJ's RFC
assessment. Her third argument attacks the ALJ's decision
at step two of the evaluative process (which purportedly also
led to error in the RFC assessment). I will first address
Plaintiffs arguments related to step two, before turning to
her arguments concerning the RFC assessment. In short, I find
that all three of Plaintiff s main arguments fail and that
the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
The ALJ's Decision at Step Two
two of the evaluative process, the ALJ considered Plaintiffs
impairments related to her depression and anxiety and
concluded that these impairments were "non-severe."
Tr. 25. In summarizing his conclusions, the ALJ stated that:
[T]he treatment records state that [Plaintiffs] mental
symptoms from [depression and anxiety] were likely secondary
to her interferon treatment for her hepatitis C. Mental
status examinations of the [Plaintiff] also noted she was
clear and intact. Finally, there is no evidence these
impairments, singly or in combination, cause any vocational
Tr. 25 (citations omitted).
then laid out a detailed analysis of the "four broad
areas of mental functioning/5 or the "paragraph B"
criteria, which supported the ALJ's conclusion that
Plaintiffs depression and anxiety did not result in severe
impairments. For example, the ALJ assessed Plaintiffs ability
to "interact with ...