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Debra D. B. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 9, 2020

Debra D. B.[1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNANDEZ JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(3)). Because the Administrative Law Judge's decision is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record, the Court AFFIRMS the decision and DISMISSES this case.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on April 4, 1956 and was fifty-two years old on December 31, 2008, the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 69.[2] Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (“SSA” or “Act”) through March 31, 2011. Tr. 13. Plaintiff has at least a tenth-grade education and is able to perform past relevant work. Tr. 24. Plaintiff claims she is disabled based on conditions including “multiple sclerosis with neurogenic (overactive) bladder and mild incomplete emptying, and sciatica.” Tr. 16.

         Plaintiff's benefits application was denied initially on July 16, 2014 and upon reconsideration on January 8, 2015. Tr. 13. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Steven A. De Monbreum on January 12, 2017. Tr. 31-68. ALJ De Monbreum issued a written decision on March 17, 2017, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to benefits. Tr. 13-25. The Appeals Council declined review, rendering ALJ De Monbreum's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-6.

         SEQUENTIAL DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         A claimant is disabled if 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). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step procedure. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability. Id.

         At step one, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so, the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a “medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.

         At step three, the Commissioner determines whether claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, meet or equal “one of a number of listed impairments that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.

         At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant, despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “past relevant work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. At step five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets its burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date. Tr. 15.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had “the following ‘severe' impairments: multiple sclerosis (“MS”) with neurogenic (overactive) bladder and mild incomplete emptying, and sciatica.” Tr. 16. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's nephrectomy for renal carcinoma, chronic cystitis, mild urinary urge/stress incontinence, and headaches were not severe. Tr. 16.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have any impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 16.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work. The ALJ further specified that Plaintiff

is able to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour day and sit for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour day. She can occasionally climb ramps/stairs, but never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds. She can occasionally balance, kneel, crouch and stoop, but never crawl. She must avoid all exposure to temperature extremes as well as to hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. Additionally, the claimant requires a workplace with an accessible toilet facility.

Tr. 17.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work. Tr. 24. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled and did not move on to step five. Tr. 24.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of benefits only when the Commissioner's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts consider the record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id.; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). “Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be affirmed.” Vasquez, 572 F.3d at 591 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (“Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal. She argues the ALJ erred by (1) improperly rejecting her subjective symptom testimony and ...


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