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Atkins v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Oregon, Pendleton Division

March 31, 2015

LACY ATKINS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting as Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff Lacy Atkins appeals the Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33. The court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.


On August 18, 2009, Atkins filed a claim for disability insurance benefits. Admin. R. 180-81. Atkins alleged she became disabled beginning September 6, 2007, due to mental and physical impairments and pain. Admin. R. 190. After an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Atkins was not disabled and denied her claim. Admin. R. 31-45. The Appeals Council denied Atkins' request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final agency decision. Admin. R. 10-15.

The ALJ correctly determined that the relevant time for Atkins' claim ended on December 31, 2008, when her insured status under the Social Security Act expired. Admin. R. 36. To prevail on her claim, Atkins 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, Atkins' ability to work was adversely affected by impairments due to fibromyalgia and obesity. Admin. R. 40-11. The ALJ found that despite her limitations, Atkins retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with lifting and carrying of 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; standing, walking, or sitting six hours of an eight-hour workday; but she must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme hot and cold temperatures, unprotected heights, and moving or dangerous machinery. Admin. R. 40. The vocational expert ("VE") testified that a person having Atkins' RFC and other vocational factors could perform the activities required in representative occupations such as assembler, electronics worker, and folder, and that those represent hundreds of thousands of jobs in the national economy. Admin. R. 44, 87-89. The ALJ therefore concluded that Atkins was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time. Admin. R. 44-15.


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. Astrne, 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. Per'ales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence may be less than a preponderance of the evidence. Robbing 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. Robbim, 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).


I. Claims of Error

Atkins contends the ALJ failed to provide sufficient reasons to reject medical evidence of James A. Weeks, M.D. and Nancy Maloney, M.D. and reasons to discredit Atkins' credibility. Atkins asks the court to credit this evidence as a matter of law and to remand for payment of benefits or alternatively, for further proceedings. Pl.'s Opening Brief at 11, II. Medical Opinions Atkins asserts the ALJ improperly considered the opinions of treating physicians James A. Weeks, M.D., and Nancy Maloney, M.D. Specifically, the opinions at issue are two letters in answer to a questionnaire. PL's Opening Brief 3-5, 11.

Three years after the relevant time, on December 20, 2011, Dr. Maloney summarized Atkins' treatment and functional limitations in a questionnaire produced by Atkins' attorney. She determined that due to the pain, fatigue, and depression, Atkins needed to "position horizontally on a break from pain." Dr. Maloney stated that Atkins experienced reduction in range of motion, endurance, and ability to open the mouth, fn addition, Dr. Maloney opined that due to pain related to fibromyalgia, TMJ dysfunction, depression/anxiety, OCD, bipolar, migraine headaches, multiple-site osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, Atkins could not consistently work on a full-time regular and sustained basis. Admin. R. 576-77. Dr. Maloney believed that Atkins was not a malingerer.

In January 2012, Dr. Weeks issued a medical source statement in response to a questionnaire produced by Atkins' attorney. He explained that he had treated Atkins for many years prior to and after September 2007. He outlined Atkins' medical complaints including anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, panic disorder, chronic TMJ, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr. Weeks explained that Atkins was on prescription Oxycontin, Oxycodone, and various psychiatric medications, including Zoloft, which she dropped due to pregnancy, Admin. R. 580.

Dr. Weeks opined that due to fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, Atkins had to change positions frequently and would be unable to sit for one hour or stand for 30 minutes on a regular basis. He noted that the restriction on standing was also due to a history of right knee meniscal tear. He opined that Atkins must lie down in a recliner for approximately one to four hours in an eight-hour period. Dr. Weeks opined that Atkins had difficulty functioning due to migraines and chronic tension headaches; limited use of arms and hands and motor function due to carpal tunnel, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia; difficulty talking and having facial expression due to her TMJ; difficulty concentrating due to chronic pain and her medications; and severe fatigue and anxiety due to her conditions. He did not believe that Atkins was a ...

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