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Dugan v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

June 26, 2014

RUBY DUGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ruby Dugan filed a complaint [1] seeking review of the Commissioner's decision to deny her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. She assigns numerous errors to the ALJ, most resting on failure to account for her difficulties in interacting with other people. Because I find that the ALJ committed no prejudicial error in weighing medical opinion, determining Ms. Dugan's credibility, or in formulating Ms. Dugan's residual functional capacity, I affirm the ALJ's decision.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Dugan protectively filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on September 2, 2009, alleging an onset date of November 1, 2008. (AR [12-6] at 141, 143.) Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (AR [12-5] at 98, 103, 109, 113.) A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Anthony J. Johnson, Jr., on March 7, 2012. (AR [12-3] at 19.)

At the hearing, Ms. Dugan testified that her medications for schizoaffective disorder have improved her ability to tolerate interpersonal interaction. (AR [12-3] at 65.) For example, when she shopped in the past, she would avoid everyone in the store until she arrived at the cash register. Id. at 74. She testified that her medication reduced the paranoid feelings that caused this behavior. Id. at 75. Even with medication, however, she said that she sometimes feels as though she can read other people's minds. Id. at 65-66. The people she associates with become uncomfortable when she announces this. Id. at 66.

Ms. Dugan summarized her tumultuous work history at the hearing, recounting positions she held at various fast food restaurants, a gas station, a video rental store, and a nonprofit poverty relief organization. Id. at 43-48, 71-76. She testified that she left each of her past jobs because of disagreements or indiscretions with coworkers and supervisors. Id. She also recounted her difficulties in getting along with her relatives. Id. at 68-71. She resided with her sister from March of 2009 until she left after an unspecified dispute. Id. at 68-69. From then until the present she lived with her mother, excluding a few months spent at a homeless shelter after another argument. Id. at 69-71.

The ALJ decided that Ms. Dugan is not disabled. Id. at 30. The ALJ found that Ms. Dugan suffers severe impairments including "schizoaffective disorder, patella-femoral syndrome, depression, degenerative disc disease..., obesity, asthma, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), insomnia, and anxiety." Id. at 22. Accordingly, the ALJ incorporated a number of physical and mental limitations into Ms. Dugan's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), including admonitions that she "should interact with the public no more than occasionally" and "have no more than occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors." Id. at 24. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ afforded "great weight" to the opinions of evaluating physician Gale Smolen, M.D., and state agency psychological consultant Robert Henry, Ph.D.[1] Id. at 27-28. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Dugan's RFC permitted her to work as a small products assembler, a wire worker, and a jewelry preparer, all positions that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 29. When the Appeals Council denied Ms. Dugan's request for review, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 1.

Ms. Dugan filed a complaint [1] seeking review of the Commissioner's decision on May 15, 2012. She filed an opening brief [13] on January 23, 2014. The Commissioner responded [15]. Ms. Dugan did not file a reply.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An ALJ's denial of benefits must stand unless it "was not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole" or "the ALJ applied the wrong legal standard." Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation omitted).

DISCUSSION

In all, Ms. Dugan identifies four errors in the ALJ's decision. She contends that the ALJ (1) failed to fully account for Dr. Smolen's opinion regarding her social difficulties; (2) gave improper reasons for discounting her credibility; (3) incorporated limitations into the RFC without grounding them in medical evidence; and (4) failed to account for all of her severe impairments in the RFC.

I. Dr. Smolen's Opinion

An ALJ may reject a treating physician's uncontradicted opinion only for "clear and convincing reasons that are supported by substantial evidence." Ryan v. Comm'r, 528 F.3d 1994, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005)). Where a treating physician's opinion contradicts that of another doctor, the ALJ may reject it based upon "specific and legitimate reasons, " which also must rest on substantial evidence. Id. (quoting Bayliss, 427 F.3d at 1216). The ALJ must explain his decision to discount a treating physician's opinion with ...


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