United States District Court, D. Oregon
DEBORAH A. HASKIN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
THOMAS M. COFFIN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Act. Upon review of the record and the parties' submissions, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and this case is dismissed.
On October 1, 2010, plaintiff protectively filed a DIB application, as well as an SSI application. Tr. 203-14. She alleged disability beginning September 24, 2008, due to "back problems, cysts, bipolar, ankle problem, and carpal tunnel." Tr. 271. After plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Tr. 130-37, 144. On August 23, 2012, plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing - represented by counsel - as did vocational expert (VE), Nancy E. Bloom. Tr. 46-68. On September 25, 2012, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled at any time from September 24, 2008 through September 25, 2012. Tr. 23-34. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-3. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal quotation omitted). The court must weigh "both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions." Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
The initial burden of proof rests-upon the claimant to establish disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486 (9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected... to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d) (1) (A).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to: 1) offer specific, clear and convincing reasons for discrediting her symptom testimony; 2) properly assess lay witness testimony; and 3) incorporate her bladder functioning into the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) determination. Pl.'s Br. 16-27.
I. Plaintiff's Credibility
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to offer specific, clear and convincing reasons for discrediting her symptom testimony. Pl.'s Br. 16. Plaintiff also claims her activities are much more limited and that the ALJ's credibility analysis is "one-sided." Pl.'s Br. 19.
For example, plaintiff testified she has difficulty reaching overhead because her right shoulder has no cartilage. Tr. 53. Plaintiff also claims she has arthritis in her hips and can stand and sit for only fifteen minutes each. Tr. 54, 63-64. Plaintiff stated that she takes Soma to relax her muscles and Hydrocodone for pain. Tr. 64. Moreover, plaintiff claims she has problems with her bladder requiring her to go the bathroom 5 or 6 times per day, for 15-20 minutes, but is looking into surgical options to improve her lack of retention. Tr. 54-57, 62.
When a claimant has medically documented impairments that could reasonably be expected to produce some degree of the symptoms complained of, and the record contains no affirmative evidence of malingering, "the ALJ can reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of... symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so." Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal citation omitted) The reasons proffered must be "sufficiently specific to permit the reviewing court to conclude that the ALJ did not arbitrarily discredit the claimant's testimony." Orteza v. Shalala, 50 F.3d 748, 750 (9th Cir. 1995)
The ALJ may employ ordinary techniques of credibility evaluation, such as the claimant's reputation for lying and prior inconsistent statements concerning the alleged symptoms. Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1284. If the "ALJ's credibility finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record, [the court] may not engage in second-guessing." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002). The ALJ may also consider the claimant's daily activities, work record, and the ...