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Hayes v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 30, 2014

ALAN HAYES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Alan Hayes brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for supplemental security income payments (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The issues before this Court are: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in evaluating the evidence submitted by examining physician, Dr. Vancura; and (2) whether the ALJ erred in forming plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), and as a result, relied on erroneous vocational expert (VE) testimony at step five of the sequential evaluation. Because the ALJ articulated specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record for partially rejecting Dr. Vancura's opinion, and because the ALJ's findings under step five of the sequential evaluation are supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for SSI on January 25, 2010, alleging disability since December 22, 2009. Tr. 22, 152-57, 169. This claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 22, 73-74, 88-89. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and appeared before the Honorable Richard A. Say on March 13, 2012. Tr. 22, 37-61. ALJ Say denied plaintiff's claim by a written decision dated March 28, 2012. Tr. 22-32. 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 February 6, 1975, tr. 31, 152, graduated high school and attended special education classes, tr. 41, 175, and more recently attended community college classes for webpage design, tr. 406. Plaintiff was thirty-four at the time of alleged disability onset, and thirty-seven at the time of his hearing. See tr. 31, 41, 152.[1] Plaintiff alleges disability due to: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obesity, learning disorder, and anxiety disorder. Tr. 24.[2]

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).

DISCUSSION

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 RFC, age, education, and work experience. Id.

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in determining and applying plaintiff's RFC under step four and five of the sequential evaluation.[3] In particular, plaintiff argues that: (1) the ALJ erred in evaluating Dr. Vancura's testimony; and (2) the ALJ erred in forming plaintiff's RFC, and as a result, relied on erroneous VE testimony at step five of the sequential evaluation.

I. Dr. Vancura's Opinion

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in his consideration of Dr. Vancura's opinion. See Pl.'s Br. 5-8, ECF No. 12. In response, defendant argues that the ALJ provided sufficient reasons for partially rejecting Dr. Vancura's opinion. See Def.'s Br. 8-10, ECF No. 16.

"To reject an uncontradicted opinion of a treating or examining doctor, an ALJ must state clear and convincing reasons that are supported by substantial evidence." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1995)). "If a treating or examining doctor's opinion is contracted by another doctor's opinion, an ALJ may only reject it by providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citation omitted). When evaluating conflicting medical opinions, an ALJ need not accept a brief, conclusory, or inadequately supported opinion. Id. (citing Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001)).

Plaintiff met with Ryan Vancura, M.D., on April 20, 2010 for a twenty-minute consultative examination. See tr. 340-344. Dr. Vancura diagnosed plaintiff with sleep apnea, chronic lower back pain, and reactive airways disease. Tr. 344. As a result of these diagnoses, Dr. Vancura opined:

The number of hours the claimant could be expected to stand and walk in an eight-hour workday is up to four hours given the claimant's limited breathing capacity and lower back pain. Nevertheless, once the patient is under regular medical care and his asthma is better controlled, then reevaluation could be performed.
The number of hours the claimant would be able to sit in an eight-hour workday is not restricted.
There are no assistive devices.
The amount of weight the claimant could lift or carry is 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally.
...
Workplace environmental activities: The claimant should not work around dust, fumes, gases due to his reactive airways disease, but is otherwise not limited ...

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