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Boyd v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 24, 2013

BIMLA W. BOYD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bimla W. Boyd seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disabled Widow's Benefits (DWB). This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After reviewing the record, this court concludes that the Commissioner's decision must be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

STANDARDS

To establish eligibility for benefits, a plaintiff has the burden of proving an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity "by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S. C.§ 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four to establish his or her disability.

At the fifth step, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that jobs exist in a significant number in the national economy that the claimant can perform given his or her residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Gomez v. Chater, 74 F.3d 967, 970 (9th Cir. 1996). If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is considered disabled for purposes of awarding benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f)(1), 416.920(a). On the other hand, if the Commissioner can meet its burden, the claimant is deemed to be not disabled for purposes of determining benefits eligibility. Id.

The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is based on the proper legal standards and its findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chafer, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

When reviewing the decision, the court must weigh all of the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. The Commissioner, not the reviewing court, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and the Commissioner's decision must be upheld in instances where the evidence supports either outcome. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998). If, however, the Commissioner did not apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and making the decision, the decision must be set aside. Id. at 720.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on October 1, 1956. She previously received disability benefits beginning in 1995. She was originally granted benefits secondary to an affective disorder and had been recommended for a disability review as she was expected to improve. Tr. 22.[1] In 2002 her benefits were terminated due to her incarceration. She protectively filed the current applications for benefits on February 11, 2008, alleging a disability onset date of October 1, 1995 based on a number of impairments, including: bipolar disorder, depression, panic disorder, personality disorder, fibromyalgia, lumbar degenerative disc disease, bilateral knee degenerative disc disease, peripheral neuropathy, status post gastric bypass, obesity, and diabetes. Her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on April 8, 2010. The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel; plaintiffs friend and caretaker; and an independent vocational expert (VE). On September 30, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. First, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the non-disability requirements for DWB through February 28, 2011. Tr. 18, Findings 1-2. Second, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not engaged in SGA since her alleged onset date. Tr. 18, Finding 3. Third, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: depression, panic disorder NOS, personality disorder, mild lumbar degenerative disc disease, mild bilateral knee degenerative joint disease, fibromyalgia, status post gastric bypass surgery, obesity, bipolar disorder, rule-out undifferentiated somatoform disorder, and diabetes mellitus II with history of peripheral neuropathy. Tr. 18, Finding 4. However, the ALJ concluded that those impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 19, Finding 5. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff has the RFC to lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and up to ten pounds frequently, sit for six hours per eight-hour work day, and stand and/or walk for up to four hours in an eight-hour work day. Tr. 20, Finding 6. Additionally, the ALJ found that plaintiff has certain postural limitations, should avoid work place hazards such as heights and moving machinery, and is limited to performing simple, repetitive, routine tasks that do not involve any more than occasional contact with the public or co-workers. Id. Based on plaintiff's RFC and testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is able to perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 27, Finding 11. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that (1) the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of Dr. Mark Dukeminier, M.D. and Dr. DeWayde Peny, M.D.; (2) the ALJ erred in evaluating plaintiff's mental impairments; (3) in the alternative, post-hearing treatment records submitted to the appeals council support plaintiff's claims of disabling mental impairments; and (4) the ALJ failed to prove that plaintiff retains the ability to perform work in the national economy.

(1) Physician's Opinions

An ALJ may reject the contradicted opinion of a treating or examining physician by stating specific and legitimate reasons, and may reject an uncontradicted opinion from a treating or examining physician by providing clear and convincing reasons, supported by substantial evidence in the record. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005). An ALJ must give weight not only to the treating physician's clinical findings and interpretation of test results, ...


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