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Glen E. R. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

December 3, 2019

Glen E. R., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MARK D.CLARKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Glen R. ("Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons provided below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born December 17, 1964. Tr. 64. He has completed one year of college and has training in auto mechanics as well as in heating and air conditioning. Tr. 241. He has past relevant work experience as a manager and a cook. Tr. 241. On January 21, 2014, Plaintiff applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning January 1, 1991, due to lower back problems. Tr. 15, 64, 71, 86. These claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 15. A short hearing was held on December 6, 2016 before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ continued the hearing so that Plaintiff could retain counsel, undergo a consulting examination, and gather more medical records. Tr. 59-60. An additional hearing was held on August 14, 2017. At the August 2017 hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to December 17, 2015, the date of his 50th birthday. Tr. 15.

         On August 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr. 15-23. On April 25, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-6. Plaintiff now appeals that final decision.

         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 V, 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); 4l6.92O(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 numbers 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 numbers 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 ...


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