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Moen v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 8, 2019

RICKI LEE MOEN, Petitioner,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.


          Candy W. Dale, U.S. Magistrate Judge


         Currently pending before the Court for its consideration is Ricki Lee Moen's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed September 20, 2017. (Dkt. 1.) The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record (AR), and for the reasons that follow, will remand to the Commissioner.


         Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on November 25, 2013, claiming Title II disability insurance benefits. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on May 25, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jesse K. Shumway. After hearing testimony from Petitioner, vocational expert Thomas A. Polsin, medical experts Haddon Christopher Alexander, III, M.D., and Philip J. Gelber, M.D., ALJ Shumway issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on June 21, 2016. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on June 9, 2017.

         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 hearing, Petitioner was 33 years of age. Petitioner has less than a high school education, completing through the 11th grade. Petitioner's prior work experience includes work as a cashier/checker and stock clerk.


         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Preliminarily, the ALJ found that Petitioner had disability insurance coverage on December 31, 2013, which means Petitioner had to prove she was disabled by that date. At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found that, although Petitioner worked after the date she alleges she became disabled, September 30, 2013, the work did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity.

         At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's ankylosing spondylitis (inflammatory arthritis) and uveitis (inflammation of the eye) severe within the meaning of the Regulations.

         Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that, through the date last insured of December 31, 2013, Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments, specifically, for ankylosing spondylitis, under Listings 14.09C and 14.09D. See 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

         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. The ALJ found Petitioner was not able to perform her past relevant work as a cashier/checker, a combination light job with a specific vocational preparation, and also was not able to perform her past relevant work as a stock clerk, a heavy job. (AR 28.)

         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 step five, the ALJ determined Petitioner retained the capacity to perform a range of light work, with a restriction to no work requiring depth perception due to her sight limitations. The ALJ cited representative light work jobs such as a small parts assembler, cafeteria attendant, and a housekeeper. The ALJ found further that Petitioner retained the capacity to perform representative sedentary jobs, with the same depth perception limitation, such as order clerk, cashier, and charge account clerk. Thus, the ALJ found Petitioner not disabled from the alleged onset date, September 30, 2012, though the last date of her last insurance coverage, December 31, 2013.


         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 v Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1997), and “does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).

         The Court cannot disturb the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence, even though other evidence may exist that supports the Petitioner's claims. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Flaten v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, will be conclusive. Flaten, 44 F.3d at 1457. It is well-settled that, if there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the Commissioner, the decision must be upheld even when the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the Commissioner's decision, because the Court “may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999).

         When reviewing a case under the substantial evidence standard, the Court may question an ALJ's credibility assessment of a witness's testimony; however, an ALJ's credibility assessment is entitled to great weight, and the ALJ may disregard a claimant's self-serving statements. Rashad v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1229, 1231 (9th Cir. 1990). Where the ALJ makes a careful consideration of subjective complaints but provides adequate reasons for rejecting them, the ALJ's well-settled role as ...

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