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Mellin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

November 14, 2018

DEBRA ANN MELLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          John Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Debra Ann Mellin (Mellin) brought this action to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner), denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433.

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction over this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Venue is proper given that Mellin resides in Cascade County, Montana. 29 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1); L.R. 1.2(c)(3). The parties have consented to have the undersigned conduct all proceedings in this matter and enter judgment. (Doc. 7).

         BACKGROUND

         Mellin filed her application for disability benefits on March 31, 2011. (Doc. 3 at 408-414). Mellin alleged a disability onset date of August 6, 2010. (Doc. 3 at 408). Mellin alleged that she became disabled due to injuries to her left ankle and left shoulder, depression, anxiety, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). (Doc. 3 at 492). Mellin is 59 years old. (Doc. 3 at 408). Mellin has a high school education. (Doc. 3 at 81). Mellin has also attended college for two years. Id. Mellin has past work experience as a general office clerk from 2007 through August 2010. (Doc. 3 at 27).

         An administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on Mellin's application for social security benefits on October 25, 2012. (Doc. 3 at 126-158). The ALJ issued her decision on December 5, 2012. (Doc. 3 at 185-194). The ALJ determined that Mellin did not qualify for disability or disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 3 at 194).

         Mellin requested that the Social Security Administration (Administration) review the ALJ's decision. The Administration granted Mellin's request. The Administration remanded the case on July 7, 2014. (Doc. 3 at 199-202). The Administration directed the ALJ to address multiple errors. Id.

         An ALJ conducted a second hearing on Mellin's application for social security benefits on March 3, 2015. (Doc. 3 at 72-125). The ALJ issued his decision on April 13, 2015. (Doc. 3 at 207-220). The ALJ determined the Mellin was not disabled. (Doc. 3 at 220). Mellin requested that the Administration review the ALJ's decision. The Administration granted Mellin's request. The Administration determined that a remand was appropriate given that the ALJ had incorrectly stated the date that Mellin was last insured for disability benefits. (Doc. 3 at 229-231).

         An ALJ conducted a third hearing on Mellin's application for social security benefits on May 9, 2017. (Doc. 3 at 39-71). The ALJ issued his decision on June 1, 2017. (Doc. 3 at 15-29). The ALJ determined that Mellin had a number of severe impairments. (Doc. 3 at 17). The ALJ determined that Mellin was not disabled despite her impairments. The ALJ concluded that Mellin possessed the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as a general office clerk, and she could also work as an order clerk or appointment clerk. (Doc. 3 at 26, 28).

         Mellin requested that the Administration review the ALJ's decision. The Administration denied Mellin's request. (Doc. 3 at 1-3). The Administration's denial made the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Id.

         Mellin filed the present action on March 9, 2018. (Doc. 1). The matter has been fully briefed. (Docs. 10, 11, 12). The Court is prepared to rule.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court's review in this matter is limited. The Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only where the decision is not supported by substantial evidence or where the decision is based on legal error. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). 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). Substantial evidence has also been described as “more than a mere scintilla” but “less than a preponderance.” Desrosiers v. Sec. of Health and Human Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988).

         BURDEN OF PROOF

         A claimant is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act if the claimant demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the claimant has a “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 twelve months;” and (2) the impairment or impairments are of such severity that, considering the claimant's age, education, and work experience, the claimant is not only unable to perform previous work but also cannot “engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Schneider v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 974 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing 42 U.S.C. §1382(a)(3)(A), (B)).

         The Social Security Administration regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-954 (9th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof under steps one through four. Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954. The Commissioner bears the burden of proof under step five. Id. The five steps of the inquiry are:

1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. If not, proceed to step two. See 20 ...

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