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Edward L. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

December 16, 2019

STEVE EDWARD L., [1]Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER [2]

          MUSTAFA T. KASUBHAI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Steve Edward L. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) decision denying him application for Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on January 26, 2016, alleging disability beginning June 30, 2015. Tr. 17[3]. His claims were initially denied, and Plaintiff timely requested and appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jo Hoenninger on November 28, 2017. Id. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application in a written decision dated January 31, 2018. Tr. 17-27. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council. Tr. 1-3. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). The five-step sequential inquiry is summarized below, and as described in Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

         Step One: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step two. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b).

         Step Two: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not have any such impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has one or more severe impairment(s), the Commissioner proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step three. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c).

         Step Three: Disability cannot be based solely on a severe impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines whether the claimant's impairment “meets or equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has an impairment that meets a listing is presumed disabled under the Act. If the claimant's impairments are not equivalent to one of the enumerated impairments, between the third and fourth steps the ALJ is required to assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in the claimant's record. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The RFC is an estimate of the claimant's capacity to perform sustained, work-related physical and/or mental activities on a regular and continuing basis, despite limitations imposed by the claimant's impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945; see also SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184.

         Step Four: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to perform work he or she has done in the past. A claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled. If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do past relevant work, the Commissioner's evaluation of claimant's case proceeds under step five. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e), 416.920(f).

         Step Five: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds claimant is able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that claimant is able to do. The Commissioner may satisfy this burden through the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant is able to perform, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner does not meet the burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).

         At steps one through four of the sequential inquiry, the burden of proof is on the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. If the claimant satisfies his burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner regarding step five. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g). At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant can make an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 27. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of November 24, 2015. Tr. 19. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “chronic pancreatitis and diabetes mellitus.” Tr. 20. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listed impairment in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listings”). Tr. 21. Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained an RFC that allowed him to perform medium work, “except [that] he can frequently climb ramps and stairs and occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl.” Tr. 21. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a School Bus Driver and Building Maintenance Worker. Tr. 25.

         Plaintiff seeks review by this Court contending that (1) the ALJ improperly rejected Plaintiff's subjective complaints; and (2) an improper and unconstitutionally appointed ALJ adjudicated his case.[4] Pl.'s Br. 1, ECF No. 14.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW OF ALJ DECISIONS

         This Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotations omitted); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen,881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). “The court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion; it may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Vidal v. Harris, 637 F.2d 710, 712 (9th Cir. 1981); Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d ...


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