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Krueger v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

February 2, 2015

MARY KRUEGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT E. JONES, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Mary Krueger appeals the Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Krueger alleged she became disabled beginning July 4, 2002 due to the combined effects of bipolar disorder and migraine headaches. She alleged her impairments caused difficulty conversing with others, memory problems, fatigue, lack of energy, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Admin. R. 18.

After an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Krueger was not disabled and denied her claim. Admin. R. 14. Four months later, Krueger's attorney ordered a consultative psychological examination by Linda Grounds, Ph.D. Admin. R. 243-257. Krueger submitted Dr. Grounds' report to the Appeals Council with her request for review. Admin. R. 240-42. The Appeals Council considered the report, but found no basis for review of the ALJ's decision. Admin. R. 1-3. On the first appeal to this court, Judge Simon affirmed most of the ALJ's findings, but remanded with instructions for the ALJ to consider Dr. Grounds' opinion. Admin. R. 514.

A second ALJ conducted further administrative proceedings and another hearing, and issued the decision on appeal here. Admin. R. 447-67. The ALJ correctly determined that the relevant time for Krueger's claim ended on December 31, 2009, when her insured status under the Social Security Act expired. Admin. R. 452. To prevail on her claim, Krueger must show that she was disabled on or before that date. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A). See Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1998).

The ALJ found that during the relevant time, Krueger's ability to work was adversely affected by nonexertional limitations. Admin. R. 461. The ALJ found that despite her impairments, Krueger retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at all exertional levels, with limitation to simple, routine, and detailed, but not complex tasks. Admin. R. 452-53. The vocational expert ("VE") testified that a person having Krueger's RFC and other vocational factors could perform the activities required in representative occupations such as industrial cleaner, motel cleaner, and mail sorter, and that those represent over one million jobs in the national economy. Admin. R. 461, 497-98. The ALJ therefore concluded that Krueger was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time. Admin. R. 461-62.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence may be less than a preponderance of the evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Under this standard, the court must consider the record as a whole, and uphold the Commissioner's factual findings that are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence even if another interpretation is also rational. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882; Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995).

DISCUSSION

I. Claims of Error

Krueger contends the ALJ failed to give specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the opinion of Dr. Grounds. Krueger argues this error led the ALJ to improperly find Krueger not disabled. Krueger asks the court to credit this evidence as a matter of law and to remand for payment of benefits.

II. Medical Opinion of Dr. Grounds

Krueger's attorney requested Dr. Grounds' opinion after the ALJ's decision. Admin. R. 239. Dr. Grounds examined Krueger for the first and only time in June 2010, six months after Krueger's insured status expired. Dr. Grounds interviewed Krueger, conducted psychological testing, and reviewed treatment records, including those of Marc Stuckey, Psy.D. and Howard Rosenbaum, M.D. Admin. R. 243. Dr. Grounds diagnosed Krueger with bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, alcohol dependence (in remission), personality disorder, and a current Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score in the range indicating serious impairment in social or occupational functioning. Admin. R. 251. Krueger had an elevated score on a malingering measure, and Dr. Grounds noted that Dr. Stuckey had also obtained a score ...


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