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Christopher Morton v. Michael J. Astrue

March 12, 2012

CHRISTOPHER MORTON, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Candy W. Dale Chief United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Christopher Morton ("Petitioner") seeks review of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's final decision denying Petitioner's application for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (Dkt. 1.) The Court has fully reviewed and considered the Complaint (hereinafter "Petition") and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record ("AR"), and for the reasons that follow, will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on October 2, 2008, alleging that he had been disabled and unable to work since August 14, 2007, due to Type I diabetes and diabetic neuropathy. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on December 17, 2009, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert S. Chester. The ALJ issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on January 6, 2010, and Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Petitioner's request for review on August 20, 2010, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Petitioner timely filed an appeal of the Commissioner's final decision to this Court on October 19, 2010. (Dkt. 1.)The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

At the December 17, 2009 hearing, Petitioner was represented by counsel and testified on his own behalf. A vocational expert appeared telephonically at the hearing and offered testimony concerning Petitioner's ability to perform past relevant work or other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Based on the ALJ's questions, the vocational expert opined that Petitioner would not be able to perform past relevant work, but that jobs existed in the national economy which Petitioner would be able to perform such as ticket taker, agricultural sorter, and injection molding machine setter. (AR 46.)

Petitioner was born on October 20, 1982, and was 27 years of age at the time of the hearing. Petitioner did not graduate from high school (discontinuing his education after the eighth grade). Petitioner's prior work experience includes work as a kitchen helper, horticultural worker, green chain off-bearer, construction worker, farm worker, and hand sander.

SEQUENTIAL PROCESS

The Commissioner follows a sequential five-step evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is engaged in substantially gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after the alleged onset date of August 14, 2007. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner's diabetes and accompanying neuropathy were severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations.

Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. A finding that one or more of a claimant's impairments meets or equal a listing presumptively demonstrates disability. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); see also, Turner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 613 F.3d 1217, 1221-22 (9th Cir. 2010). The ALJ found that Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments. Specifically, the ALJ analyzed Petitioner's impairments under Listing 9.08 (Diabetes Mellitus) and found "no evidence of A) neuropathy demonstrated by significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station; B) acidosis occurring at least on the average of once every 2 months documented by appropriate blood chemical tests; or C) retinitis proliferans." (AR 13.)*fn1

If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity and determine, at step four, whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found that Petitioner had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. (AR 13.) Consistent with this conclusion, the ALJ found that Petitioner could lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and frequently lift or carry 10 pounds. (Id.) The ALJ also found that Petitioner could sit for six hours and stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, but would require a sit/stand option. (Id.) Finally, the ALJ concluded that Petitioner could occasionally do fine feeling and should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures and hazards such as unprotected heights or unprotected moving machinery. (Id.)

At step four, based upon Petitioner's RFC and the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Petitioner was unable to perform his past relevant work. (AR 17.) If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate, at step five, that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant levels in the national economy, after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience. At this last step, considering Petitioner's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that Petitioner could perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ noted the positions identified by the vocational expert: ticket taker, agricultural sorter, and injection molding machine setter. (AR 18-19.) Because the ALJ found that Petitioner could perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, he concluded that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 19.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Petitioner bears the burden of showing that disability benefits are proper because of the 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); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); Rhinehart v. Fitch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if his physical or mental impairments are of such severity that he not only cannot do his previous work but is unable, considering his ...


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