United States District Court, D. Oregon
DAVID P. LOYD II, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.
Plaintiff David Loyd II brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income payments (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The issue before this Court is whether the ALJ erred in forming and applying plaintiff's RFC under step four and five of the sequential evaluation, and whether the ALJ fully and fairly developed the record. Because the ALJ properly formed and applied plaintiff's RFC and the ALJ properly developed the record, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on November 25, 2009, alleging disability since December 12, 2007 (later amended to February 15, 2008). Tr. 21, 80, 180. These claims were denied initially on January 26, 2010, and upon reconsideration on April 9, 2010. Tr. 21. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and appeared before the Honorable Steve Lynch on November 21, 2011. Tr. 21, 55-94. ALJ Lynch denied plaintiff's claims by written decision dated December 2, 2011. Tr. 21-32. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which was subsequently denied, thus rendering the ALJ's decision final. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review.
Plaintiff, born on November 1, 1963, completed his freshman year of high school and has worked most recently as an ice cream salesman (2007-2009) and cook (2003-2007, 2008). Tr. 31, 67, 198, 212-219. Plaintiff was forty-four at the time of alleged disability onset, tr. 31, 180, and forty-eight at the time of his hearing, tr. 180. Plaintiff alleges disability due to degenerative disk disease, left wrist fusion, and osteoarthritis. Tr. 23
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).
The Social Security Administration utilizes a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If a claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Id.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in forming and applying plaintiff's RFC under step four and five of the sequential evaluation. In particular, plaintiff argues: (1) the ALJ failed to consider the effects of plaintiff's sleep disturbance, insomnia, fatigue, and wrist immobility; and (2) the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record.
I. RFC Limitations
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to consider plaintiff's sleep disturbances caused by his deviated septum, insomnia, and resulting fatigue. Pl.'s Br. 13-14, ECF No. 17. In addition to these sleep-related impairments, plaintiff also alleges that the ALJ "failed to provide limitations caused by [plaintiff's] left wrist immobility." Id. at 14.
Plaintiff, in specific reliance on his own subjective reporting to Wagner, FNP, asserts that an "ear/nose/throat specialist strongly recommended surgical correction" for his deviated septum. Id. at 13 (citing tr. 465). Plaintiff also generally relies on "physicians all routinely describ[ing] [his] complaints of sleep disturbance." Id. This Court, having reviewed the evidentiary record, identified multiple subjective complaints relating to plaintiff's sleep disturbance and/or his deviated septum. See, e.g., tr. 289, 290, 292, 294, 297, 357, 364, 432, 451; but see tr. 401, 453 (indicating plaintiff was "negative for fatigue"). However, the only objective assertion of plaintiff's fatigue identified by this Court is a questionnaire completed by Knight, MD, in February 2011. Tr. 357. The ALJ found that this opinion "receives limited weight." As discussed below, the ALJ provided clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence for partially rejecting Dr. Knight's opinion. To the extent that plaintiff argues his own subjective reports of fatigue were not incorporated into the RFC, the ALJ provided specific, clear and convincing reasons for rejecting claimant's testimony about the severity of his symptoms. As discussed more thoroughly in § II, the ALJ identified malingering behavior, see supra note 14, and noted that plaintiff's activities (work and daily) were "inconsistent with [plaintiff's] allegations of disability." Tr. 29; see also tr. 331, 345 (suggesting a less restrictive RFC). Thus, the ALJ properly rejected Dr. Knight's opinion and plaintiff's own subjective testimony as it related to his sleep related impairments.
Plaintiff also contends that ALJ erred in formulating the RFC limitations related to plaintiff's wrist impairment. See, e.g., Pl.'s reply Br. 1, ECF No. 19. Defendant, in response, argues that the "ALJ properly accounted for [p]laintiff's functional limitations." ...