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Jarvis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

July 25, 2017

MARTIN A. JARVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JAMES P. DONOHUE, Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Martin A. Jarvis appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) that denied his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83f, after a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff is a 46-year-old man with a high school diploma. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 51. His past work experience includes employment as a sawmill laborer. AR at 287. Plaintiff was last gainfully employed in June 2010. Id.

         In June 2012, Plaintiff filed for SSI and DIB, alleging an onset date of March 22, 2012. AR at 218-28. Plaintiff asserted that he is disabled due to back problems. AR at 278.

         The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's claim initially and on reconsideration. AR at 134-37, 143-47. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which took place on April 30, 2014. AR at 41-87. On October 16, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and denied benefits based on her finding that Plaintiff could perform a specific job existing in significant numbers in the national economy. AR at 24-35. After reviewing additional evidence, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR at 1-8. On August 18, 2016, Plaintiff timely filed the present action challenging the Commissioner's decision. Dkt. 1, 3.

         II. JURISDICTION

         Jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision exists pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 (9th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence” is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving any other ambiguities that might exist. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). While the Court is required to examine the record as a whole, it may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's conclusion that must be upheld. Id.

         IV. EVALUATING DISABILITY

         As the claimant, Mr. Jarvis bears the burden of proving that he is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). The Act defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity” due to a physical or mental impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is disabled under the Act only if his impairments are of such severity that he is unable to do his previous work, and cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other substantial gainful activity existing in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).

         The Commissioner has established a five step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof during steps one through four. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Id. If a claimant is found to be disabled at any step in the sequence, the inquiry ends without the need to consider subsequent steps. Step one asks whether the claimant is presently engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).[1] If he is, disability benefits are denied. If he is not, the Commissioner proceeds to step two. At step two, the claimant must establish that he has one or more medically severe impairments, or combination of impairments, that limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant does not have such impairments, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner moves to step three to determine whether the impairment meets or equals any of the listed impairments described in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). A claimant whose impairment meets or equals one of the listings for the required twelve-month duration requirement is disabled. Id.

         When the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, the Commissioner must proceed to step four and evaluate the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here, the Commissioner evaluates the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work to determine whether he can still perform that work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the opposite is true, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, taking into consideration the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1099, 1100. If the Commissioner finds the claimant is unable to perform other work, then the claimant is found disabled and benefits may be awarded.

         V. DECISION BELOW

         On October 16, 2014, the ALJ found:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 22, 2012, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant's lumbar degenerative disc disease, post laminectomy syndrome, and social phobia are severe impairments.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. The claimant has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), in that he can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday. He can walk for no more than two hours in an eight-hour workday. He can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can less than occasionally climb stairs and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl and balance. He must avoid concentrated exposure to high impact vibrations and hazards such as unprotected heights or moving machinery. After sitting or standing for approximately one hour, he needs the opportunity to change positions for approximately 5 to 15 minutes without losing production pace. After approximately two hours of work (consistent with normal workday breaks) he needs to have the opportunity to change positions or take a break for 15 minutes. After approximately four hours of work (consistent with normal workday breaks), he needs to have the opportunity to change positions or take a break for approximately 30 minutes. He cannot have public contact, but he can have occasional coworker contact that does not require teamwork.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy ...

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