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Garner v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

February 4, 2015

VICKI LOUISE GARNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT E. JONES, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Vicki Garner appeals the Commissioner's decision to deny her concurrent applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Garner alleged disability beginning May 18, 2007, due to degenerative disc disease, shoulder pain, nausea, dehydration, blackouts, fibromyalgia, high cholesterol, hypertension, and depression. Admin. R. 19, 22, 167, 209. The ALJ applied the five-step disability determination process described in the regulations. Admin. R. 21-29.

The ALJ found Garner's ability to work limited by the combined effects of degenerative disc disease, past fusion surgery in the cervical region of the spine, fibromyalgia, and major depressive disorder. Admin. R. 21-22. The ALJ found that, despite her impairments, Garner retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of sedentary work involving approximately two hours of standing or walking and six hours of sitting during the work day. He found that she had limited ability to push, pull, reach over head, climb, and engage in postural activities such as stooping, kneeling, and crawling. The ALJ found Garner limited to simple, routine tasks that can be learned in 30 days or less and involve only occasional contact with the public. Admin. R. 24.

The vocational expert ("VE") testified that a person of Garner's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the requirements of sedentary, unskilled occupations such as stuffer, eyeglass frame polisher, and surveillance system monitor, representing several hundred thousand jobs in the national economy. Admin. R. 28-29, 41-42. The ALJ concluded that Garner was not disabled for the purposes of the Social Security Act. Admin. R. 29.

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. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence need not be a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). The Commissioner's factual findings must be upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record, even if another rational interpretation is also supported. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995).

DISCUSSION

I. Claims of Error

Garner contends the ALJ improperly discounted her credibility and rejected the opinion of Scott Johnson, M.D., her primary care physician. She contends the ALJ should have given greater weight to the opinion of Linda Jensen, M.D., an agency reviewing physician. Garner argues these errors led the ALJ to elicit testimony from the vocational expert with hypothetical assumptions that did not accurately reflect her functional limitations.

II. Credibility Determination

In her application, Garner alleged she could not work because of the combined effects of a degenerative condition of the spine, fibromyalgia, and major depression. She said these conditions caused pain, fatigue, and inability to focus on job duties. Admin. R. 25, 209. At the administrative hearing, Garner testified that fatigue and pain made it necessary for her to lie down several times per day for up to 30 minutes at a time and take a three-hour nap in the afternoon. Admin. R. 25, 62. Garner also said she sometimes blacked out and would be in too much pain to get to work if she had a job. Admin. R. 58-62.

The ALJ found that Garner's medical condition reasonably could be expected to impose some degree of the limitations she claimed, but that Garner's statements about the limiting effects of her symptoms were not credible insofar as she claimed limitations that exceeded those in the RFC assessment. Admin. R. 25. Thus, the ALJ did not credit Garner's claims that she required an extended nap each day and frequent 30-minute breaks to lie down or that her symptoms would prevent her from getting to a place of employment. The ALJ acknowledged that Garner might experience some degree of discomfort while ...


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