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Gayles v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 2, 2015

MISTY A. GAYLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL McSHANE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Misty Gayles brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

Plaintiff seeks benefits as of August 25, 2010. The administrative law judge (ALJ) determined plaintiff was not disabled because plaintiff could make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. TR 25.[1] Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly rejecting or failing to account for all material limitations found by examining psychologist, Dr. McKenna; and (2) improperly rejecting material limitations found by examining psychologist, Dr. Spendal. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r for Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it 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) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, we review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment' for that of the Commissioner, " and therefore must affirm. Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998)).

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 burden of proving the claimant's disability rests upon the claimant until the fifth and final step of the analysis, at which point the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to work other than what she has done before. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with nonexertional limitations due to her borderline intellectual functioning. TR 21. Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined plaintiff was capable of working as a kitchen helper, airplane cleaner, car lot attendant, and flagger. TR 24. Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff did not qualify as disabled under the Social Security Act. TR 25.

Because the ALJ's findings are based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence in the record, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

1. Material limitations found by examining psychologist, Dr. McKenna.

Plaintiff alleges that in calculating her RFC, the ALJ failed to account for certain probative limitations in Dr. McKenna's testimony. The ALJ need not discuss all evidence presented, but rather only significant probative evidence. Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984). The plaintiff highlights Dr. McKenna's testimony about her need for assistance in finding jobs, completing job applications, career counseling, training in job search skills, and job application assistance. TR 211, 218. The RFC, however, is defined as "the maximum degree to which the individual retains the capacity for sustained performance of the physical-mental requirements of jobs." 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, § 200.00(c) (emphasis added). The RFC calculation does not incorporate how one secures work. As a result, Dr. McKenna's testimony about the plaintiff's limitations in acquiring a job is neither significant nor probative evidence as it relates to plaintiff's RFC. The ALJ need not account for the plaintiff's limitations in applying for work or explain why they were excluded from the RFC.

Similarly, the vocational expert does not consider how the plaintiff would find work. "[T]he whole purpose of vocational expert testimony... is to assess whether jobs exist for a person with the claimant's precise disabilities." Gilliam v. Califano, 620 F.2d 691, 694 n.1 (8th Cir. 1980). The vocational expert specializes in job performance requirements, not job application requirements. In this case, the ALJ properly advised the vocational expert of the plaintiff's disabilities, and the vocational expert testified that the plaintiff could perform the work of a kitchen helper, airplane cleaner, car lot attendant, and flagger. TR 54-55.

The remaining limitations plaintiff identifies from Dr. McKenna's testimony are plaintiff's need for repetitive work that uses overlearned or daily living skills and her need for a calculator or cash register for work that involves the handling of money. Pl.'s Br. 7 (citing TR 211, 219). As to the first limitation, the record shows the ALJ properly accounted for plaintiff's need for repetitive, routine work. The ALJ made note of the testimony from plaintiff's mother regarding plaintiff's daily activities. TR 23. These activities include "cleaning, cooking, caring for pets, doing laundry, shopping, caring for children, going fishing, and balancing a checkbook." Id. The ALJ observed, "The activities of daily living she described are consistent with the residual functioning capacity and are inconsistent with the alleged degree of limitation." Id. Plaintiff's own description of her activities of daily living, also noted by the ALJ, matches her mother's testimony. TR 22. The ALJ ultimately concluded, "In light of all the evidence and the factors discussed above, the limitations of the claimant's residual functioning capacity are considered warranted, but no greater or additional limitations are justified." TR 24. As a result, the ALJ instructed the vocational expert,

[T]his hypothetical claimant would be limited to simple, routine, repetitive work; any instructions on the job should be verbal as opposed to written; and the position should not require proficiency in reading or required ...

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