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Elizabeth G. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 16, 2020

ELIZABETH G., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MARLENE R. YESQUEN Attorney for Plaintiff

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney RENATA GOWIE Assistant United States Attorney

          MICHAEL W. PILE Acting Regional Chief Counsel KATHERINE B. WATSON Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ANNA J. BROWN UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Elizabeth G. seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in which he denied Plaintiff's application for Child Insurance Benefits (CIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner and DISMISSES this matter.

         ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for CIB on August 12, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of September 21, 1987. Tr. 113.[1] The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on May 3, 2017, and a second hearing on October 3, 2017. Tr. 58-93, 94-99. Plaintiff appeared without her attorney at the first hearing and with her attorney at the second hearing. Plaintiff, Plaintiff's mother, and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the second hearing.

         The ALJ issued a decision on November 8, 2017, in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled before she was 22 years old and, therefore, is not entitled to benefits. Tr. 23-38. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d), that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on November 13, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-6. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on September 21, 1987; was 29 years old at the time of the first hearing; and was 30 years old at the time of the second hearing. Tr. 113. Plaintiff has a college degree. Tr. 66. The ALJ found Plaintiff does not have any past relevant work experience. Tr. 51.

         Plaintiff alleges disability during the relevant period due to "cognitive disorder; right frontal ventriculostomy; expressive language disorder; visual processing disorder; history of seizure disorder; one episode of status epilepsy; visual spacial disorder; [and] auditory processing disorder." Tr. 114.

         Except when noted, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. After carefully reviewing the medical records, this Court adopts the ALJ's summary of the medical evidence. See Tr. 47-49.

         STANDARDS

         The initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish disability. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9thCir. 2012). To meet this burden, a claimant must demonstrate her inability "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). The ALJ must develop the record when there is ambiguous evidence or when the record is inadeguate to allow for proper evaluation of the evidence. McLeod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 885 (9th Cir. 2011) (guoting Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459-60 (9th Cir. 2001)) .

         The district 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 as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Brewes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adeguate to support a conclusion." Molina, 674 F.3d. at 1110-11 (guoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 51A F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). "It is more than a mere scintilla [of evidence] but less than a preponderance." Id. (citing Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690).

         The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). The court must weigh all of the evidence whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

         DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         I. The Regulatory Sequential Evaluation

         For an claimant to be entitled to child insurance benefit, she must establish she "is under a disability [as defined within the meaning of the Social Security Act] which began before [s]he attained the age of 22." 42 U.S.C.A. § 402(d)(1).

         The Commissioner has developed a five-step seguential inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Each step is potentially dispositive.

         At Step One the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (4) (I) . See also Keyser v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 648 F.3d 721, 724 (9th Cir. 2011).

         At Step Two the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant does not have any medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724.

         At Step Three the claimant is disabled if the Commissioner determines the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (4) (iii) . See also Keyser, 648 F.3d at 724. The criteria for the listed impairments, known as Listings, are enumerated in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (Listed Impairments).

         If the Commissioner proceeds beyond Step Three, he must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). The claimant's RFC is an assessment of the sustained, work-related physical and mental activities the claimant can still do on a regular and continuing basis despite her limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). See also Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. "A 'regular and continuing basis' means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent schedule." SSR 96-8p, at *1. In other words, the Social Security Act does not require complete incapacity to be ...


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