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Veronica G. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 10, 2020

VERONICA G., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MARK D. CLARKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Veronica G. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying her applications for SSI and SSDIB under the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to magistrate jurisdiction. For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND [2]

         Plaintiff, who is now 50 years old, has applied for disability-related benefits four times. On February 12, 1998, she filed an application for supplemental security income ("SSI"), but the application was denied. On September 15, 2000, she filed applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and SSI, claiming disability since January 1, 1995, but these were also denied. Plaintiffs third set of applications for benefits were filed on March 7, 2007, and these were granted. Tr. 419, 423. Plaintiff was in pay status from 2007 to 2010. Tr. 18. She was then notified that her disability had ceased due to a finding of medical improvement, based in part on an investigation by the Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit (CDIU). The initial determination Was made July 21, 2010, and the reconsideration dated April 14, 2011 came to the same conclusion.

         On September 21, 2011, Plaintiff filed her fourth and most recent set of applications for a period of disability, DIB and SSL In both applications, Plaintiff alleges disability beginning October 1, 2010, the date of the cessation of her benefits due to medical improvements. These applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 213, 242. A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kelly Wilson on May 22, 2015 and a supplemental hearing was held on March 22, 2016. Tr.7l, 115.

         On September 28, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled because she found Plaintiff could perform the jobs of mail sorter, storage facility rental clerk, and price marker, with a residual functional capacity that limited plaintiff to between the full range of sedentary work and less than the full range of light work. Tr. 35, 60-61. Plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"), according to the ALJ, is largely the result of degenerative disc disease of the spine and idiopathic hypersomnia. Tr. 35-52. The Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (AC) denied Plaintiffs appeal of the ALJ's decision on October 19, 2017. Tr. 1-3. The record does not include the content of Plaintiff s AC appeal other than noting additional medical records were submitted. Id. Plaintiff timely filed a Complaint for Review of Decision of Commissioner of Social Security before this Court pursuant to 42 USC §405(g) on December 22, 2017.

         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); 416.920(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); 4l6.945(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 No. 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 No. 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 the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant No. in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954-55; Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2014. Tr. 21.
2. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date of October 1, 2010. Tr. 21.
3. Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: morbid obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine, and idiopathic hypersomnia. Tr. 21.
4. Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. Tr. 35.
5. Plaintiff has the RFC to perform the exertional and non-exertional demands of light work, which is defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) as work that involves lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, except that she is able to perform standing and/or walking for up to 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. She is able to perform frequent stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs, but no climbing of ladders, ropes, scaffolds. She is able to perform simple and detailed tasks, but more complex tasks would be difficult to maintain consistently due to the effects of idiopathic hypersomnia. Tr. 35.
6. Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 59.
7. Plaintiff was born on March 11, 1969 and was 41 years old, which is defined as a younger individual, on the ...

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