Hughes v. Commissioner Social Security Administration
Opinion and Order. The Commissioner's decision that Hughes is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and is therefore AFFIRMED. Please access entire text by document number hyperlink. Signed on 02/02/2017 by Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke. (rsm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON
HELEN HUGHES, on behalf of
RAY ALLEN HUGHES
Case No. 6:15-cv-2271-CL
OPINION AND ORDER
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
CLARKE, Magistrate Judge:
Plaintiff, Helen Hughes, on behalf of Ray Allen Hughes ("Hughes"), seeks to reverse and
remand the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
("Commissioner") denying Hughes's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under
title II of the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and§
1383(c). Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it is
Hughes filed his application for DIB on September 6, 2012. Tr. 280. He alleged
disability beginning May 15, 2004 due to stage four intestinal cancer, swelling of the brain,
stomach cancer, pain, high blood pressure, and a knee condition. Tr. 162. 1 After the
Commissioner denied his application initially and upon reconsideration Hughes requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Administrative hearings were held on
January 24, 2013, and March 6, 2013. Tr. 24-45, 46-79.
On April 26, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Hughes not disabled. Tr. 8-23. The
Appeals Council denied Hughes's subsequent request for review on July 11, 2013, and the ALJ's
decision became the Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this court. Tr. 1-4; 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 422.210. Hughes appealed the Commissioner's decision to the District
Court. After Hughes submitted briefing, the Commissioner agreed to remand the case for further
proceedings. The District Court adopted the parties' Stipulated Motion for Remand, reversed the
ALJ' s decision, and remanded the case to the Agency for further proceedings on August 22,
2014. Tr. 400-04. The ALJ reviewed new evidence and held another hearing on July 7, 2015.
Tr. 307-26. In a decision dated August 28, 2015, the ALJ again found Hughes not disabled, and
Plaintiff sought review in this court. Tr. 290-306.
Born in November, 1955, Hughes was 56 years old when he filed his application for DIB.
Tr. 280. He has past relevant work as a recreational vehicle repairer and business manager. Tr.
Citations are to the page(s) indicated in the official transcript of the record filed on May
27, 2016 (ECF No. 13).
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Disability is the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death
or 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)(l)(A). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to
determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520;
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F .3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999).
At step one, the ALJ found that Hughes had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
after the alleged onset date through his date last insured of December 31, 2010. Tr. 295. At step
two, the ALJ found that Hughes has the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the
knees, status post arthroscopic surgery and history of fractures malleolus, and obesity. Tr. 296.
At step three, the ALJ found Hughes did not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Id.
The ALJ next assessed Hughes' s RFC and determined that through the date last insured,
he could perform a range of light work with the following limitations: he can stand and walk
each six hours in an eight hour workday; sit for six hours per day; lift 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently; occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; frequently climb
ramps and stairs; occasionally crouch, kneel, and crawl; and frequently balance and stoop. Tr.
At step four, the ALJ found Hughes could not perform any of his past relevant work. Tr.
300. At step five, the ALJ determined Hughes had transferable skills from his past work and
could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including parts
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sales person and invoice control clerk. Tr. 301. The ALJ therefore concluded Hughes was not
disabled during the relevant period. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The reviewing 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. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the
evidence that supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d
1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007), citing Reddickv. Chafer, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). The
reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Ryan v. Comm 'r
ofSoc. Sec. Admin., 528 F.3d 1194, 1205 (9th Cir. 2008), citing Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742,
746 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Edlundv. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). Where
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision
must be upheld if it is "'supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record."'
Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008), quoting Batson v. Comm 'r ofSoc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to find Hughes's knee impairments met
Listing l.02A at step three. 2 At step three, the ALJ determines whether the claimant's severe
impairment meets or equals one or more of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Here, the ALJ considered all the medical
evidence of Hughes's impairments in light of listing l.02A, which addresses knee impairments
like those alleged in Hughes's application. To meet Listing l.02A, a claimant must present
Plaintiff also alleged in her Opening Brief that the ALJ erred by failing to follow the
District Court's order, but conceded this argument in her Reply Brief.
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evidence of "major dysfunction of a joint" with "gross anatomical deformity" and chronic joint
pain, range of motion limitations "or other abnormal motion," and "findings on appropriate
medically acceptable imaging of joint space narrowing, bony destruction, or ankyloses of the
affected joint" causing "inability to ambulate effectively."
Here, Hughes failed to present evidence of an inability to ambulate effectively. In the
first decision, the ALJ noted that Hughes sought only conservative treatment for his alleged knee
pain. Tr. 388. The ALJ also found that objective findings revealed no significant functional
deficits. The medical record reveals that Hughes consistently presented in "good health" and
showed normal range of motion and normal gait. Tr. 209, 214, 216, 223, 255. There is no
evidence in the record that Hughes used an assistive device or was significantly limited in his
ability to walk, and the record contains no imaging from the relevant period to support a finding
that Hughes met listing 1.02A. On this record, the ALJ's step three finding was reasonable and
is therefore affirmed. Tommasetti, 533 F.3d at 1038.
Plaintiff argues that the opinion of Anthony Francis, M.D., provides the requisite medical
evidence to show Hughes meets listing 1.02A. The court disagrees. While Dr. Francis opined
that there "probably was enough pathology to reasonably equal l .02A in the period in question,"
he stated in the same paragraph that "there isn't enough evidence in the record to conclusively
say that was the case." Tr. 526, 528. Dr. Francis also opined that any evidence supporting a
finding that Hughes met listing 1.02A was "anecdotal." Tr. 528. Such anecdotal evidence is not
sufficient to support a finding of disability at step three. See Tackett, 180 F .3d at 1100; 20
C.F.R. § 404.1529(d)(3). To the extent there was a conflict in Dr. Francis's opinion, the ALJ
was entitled to resolve that conflict and reasonably conclude that Hughes did not meeting listing
1.02A. See Carmickle v. Comm 'r, 533 F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008) (the ALJ is responsible
Page 5 - OPINION AND ORDER
for resolving conflicts in the medical record, including conflicts among physicians' opinions).
The ALJ' s decision is affirmed.
For the reasons discussed above, the Commissioner's decision that Hughes is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence and is therefore AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this '}.-- day of
United States Magistrate Judge
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