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Brandt v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

September 8, 2014

NANCY BRANDT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES A. REDDEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Nancy Brandt brings this action to obtain judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and this matter is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

Brandt filed her applications on January 4, 2010, alleging disability since June 30, 2008, due to fused lower back with plate and rod, spinal stenosis of C7 and T1, spinal cord malfunction causing spinal fluid build up, Barrett's esophagus, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, stenosis in hips, colon polyps, alcoholism with liver and kidney damage, and seizure disorder. Tr. 202. Brandt was 49 years old on her alleged onset date. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held on March 27, 2012. Tr. 31-67. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found her not disabled. Brandt's request for review was denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

ALJ's DECISION

The ALJ found Brandt had the medically determinable severe impairments of status post lumbar spine fusion, with degenerative grade I spondylolisthesis at L3-4; cervical degenerative disc disease with stenois; mild right cubital tunnel syndrome; status post right ulnar nerve transposition; gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome; syncope; depression; anxiety; and history of alcohol dependence, in remission. Tr. 18.

The ALJ found that Brandt's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. I. Id.

The ALJ determined that Brandt retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She can stand and walk up to six hours and sit up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, but she must have the opportunity to alternate positions every hour. She can reach above shoulder level with the right upper extremity and may turn her head 30 degrees to the left of center. She can climb, balance, kneel, handle and grip on a frequent basis. She can frequently stoop, crouch, and crawl, but should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She should avoid working around moving machinery. She can more than frequently perform detailed, complex work, but may perform a full range of simple, routine and repetitive work with occasional contact with co-workers, supervisors and the general public. She may perform work at stress level six on a scale of one to ten. Tr. 20.

At step four, the ALJ found Brandt was capable of performing her past relevant work as a cashier checker, receptionist, and electronics assembler. Tr. 23.

Brandt argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) finding her not fully credible; and (2) failing to properly consider the medical evidence.

DISCUSSION

I. Credibility

The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). However, the ALJ's findings must be supported by specific, cogent reasons. Reddick v. Chafer, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). Unless there is affirmative evidence showing that the claimant is malingering, the Commissioner's reason for rejecting the claimant's testimony must be "clear and convincing." Id. The ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints. Id. The evidence upon which the ALJ relies must be substantial. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 724. See also Holohan v. Massinari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1208 (9th Cir. 2001). General findings (e.g., "record in general" indicates improvement) are an insufficient basis to support an adverse credibility determination. Reddick at 722. See a/so Holohan, 246 F.3d at 1208. The ALJ must make a credibility determination with findings sufficiently specific to permit the court to conclude that the ALJ did not arbitrarily discredit the claimant's testimony. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 958 (9th Cir. 2002).

In deciding whether to accept a claimant's subjective symptom testimony, "an ALJ must perform two stages of analysis: the Cotton analysis and an analysis of the credibility of the claimant's testimony regarding the severity of her symptoms." [Footnote ...


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