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Buss v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 22, 2017

NANCY K. BUSS, Petitioner,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Currently pending before the Court is Nancy Buss's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on January 31, 2017. (Dkt. 1.) The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record (AR). For the reasons that follow, the Courtwill affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

         Petitioner filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, and also protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, on September 11, 2013. These applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on August 12, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Christopher Inama. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, ALJ Inama issued a decision on October 14, 2015, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on December 5, 2016.

         Petitioner appealed this final decision to the Court. The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         At the time of the alleged disability onset date of July 13, 2011, Petitioner was fifty-one years of age. Petitioner completed the eleventh grade, and her prior work experience includes work as a dispatcher and cleaner/housekeeper.

         SEQUENTIAL PROCESS

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation 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 substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of July 13, 2011. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, with a history of cervical spine surgery, and migraine headaches severe within the meaning of the Regulations.

         Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for any listed impairment, specifically considering Petitioner's cervical and back impairment under Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine). The ALJ determined Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairment considered.

         If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine, at step four, whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. In assessing Petitioner's functional capacity, the ALJ determines whether Petitioner's complaints about the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her pain are credible.

         In formulating Petitioner's RFC, the ALJ considered Petitioner's activities of daily living, and the medical evidence of record. The ALJ found that, Petitioner's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her pain were not entirely credible. Consequently, the ALJ found Petitioner retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work which included the ability to perform her past work as a dispatcher and cleaner/housekeeper, even after considering the following limitations: never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; avoid concentrated exposure to hazards and refrain from operating automotive equipment.

         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. Here, the ALJ found Petitioner retained the ability to perform her past work, and therefore the ALJ did not proceed to step five. Consequently, the ALJ determined Petitioner was not disabled.

         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. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if her physical or mental impairments are of such severity that she not only cannot do her previous work but is unable, considering her age, education, and work experience, to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         On review, the Court is instructed to uphold the decision of the Commissioner if the decision is supported by substantial evidence and is not the product of legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Universal Camera Corp. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 340 U.S. 474 (1951); Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (as amended); DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence 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). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance, Jamerson ...


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