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Paxton v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 9, 2015

Commissioner of Social Security, Defendants.


THOMAS M. COFFIN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff brings this proceeding to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiffs application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.

Plaintiff asserts disability beginning September 30, 2007, [1]due to IBS, Asperger's, depression, osteoarthritis (hip, feet, hands, back), OCD, and a need for a back and knee brace. Tr. 219. After a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that plaintiff is not disabled. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in: (1) rejecting the opinion Dr. Kay Stradinger; (2) rejecting plaintiffs testimony about his limitations; (3) rejecting the opinion of Dr. Noah Roost; and in (4) failing to find plaintiffs depressive condition severe.

A. Plaintiffs Credibility

Although plaintiff alleged several physical impairments in addition to his autism spectrum disorder, he essentially argues that his limitations in social functioning and interacting with others are disabling and does not contest the ALJ's findings that his physical impairments are non-severe.

Plaintiff describes his Asperger's symptoms as being present since childhood. E.g., Tr. 322. Plaintiff testified that he is unable to hold a full-time job because he "is not the most social creature on the planet [and has] a hard time dealing with people in [a] social atmosphere." Tr. 31. Accordingly, plaintiff maintains that he cannot get along with his bosses and got fired from most of the jobs he held. The ALJ found plaintiffs statements concerning the limiting effects of his symptoms not entirely credible. Tr. 15. The ALJ noted that plaintiffs Asperger's is treatable and he has been urged to emoll in psychological counseling support groups, but that plaintiff has declined to participate in such treatment. Tr. 15, 290 (although unlikely plaintiffwill recover from Asperger's, his problems are treatable, but he has chosen not to go to adult Asperger's group). The ALI also noted that plaintiff failed to get tested for Asperger's until he was 55 years old. Tr. 18. The ALJ may consider unexplained or inadequately explained failure to seek treatment or to follow a prescribed course oftreatment in assessing credibility. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008). The ALJ's finding is supported by substantial evidence and is sufficiently clear and convincing reason to discount plaintiffs disabling symptom testimony. See Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 750-51 (9th Cir. 2007).

The ALJ also noted that plaintiffs testimony that he cannot work is inconsistent with his own reports. Tr. 15-16, 18. See Tr. 285-86 (plaintiff notes that he worked successfully in occupations where he works by himself such as a library aid position he held for two years in which he quit because of the heat of the locale, not interpersonal problems). Again, this is a sufficiently clear and convincing reason supported by the record justifying the ALJ's credibility determination. See Valentine v. Commissioner Social Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 693 (9th Cir. 2009) (Even activities that suggest some difficulty functioning are grounds for discrediting the claimant's testimony to the extent that they contradict claims of a totally debilitating impairment); Turner v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 613 F.3d 1217, 1225 (9th Cir. 2010) (ALJ properly rejected implication of disability because of inability to put up with people where claimant made exaggerated statements). Accordingly, the ALJ did not err in rejecting plaintiffs claims oftotally disabling symptoms of social functioning.

B. Dr. Kay Stradinger

Dr. Stradinger examined plaintiff and opined that plaintiff would have a very difficult time interacting appropriately, effectively, independently, and on a sustained basis with supervisors, coworkers, and the public. Tr. 291. The ALJ did not reject this opinion, but incorporated it into plaintiffs residual functional capacity assessment. Although plaintiff argues that such an opinion establishes disability as a matter of law, [2]the ALJ appropriately accounted for the impairment and a vocational expert provided substantial evidence that such limitation did not preclude all work.

The ALJ determined that plaintiff is limited to a simple routine work environment without public contact. That he works best alone and not as a part of team to complete work duty assignments with only brief minimal contact with co-workers and supervisors. Tr. 14. While plaintiff interprets Dr. Stradinger's opinion as precluding even brief minimal contacts, the ALI's interpretation is reasonable given that plaintiff has a past employment history and still regularly works (at a non-SGA level) tuning pianos for customers and performing music gigs. Indeed, Dr. Stradinger did state that plaintiff would be able to cognitively complete simple and repetitive work type tasks in the workplace. Tr. 291. Accordingly, the ALJ did not err with respect to this opinion.

Dr. Stradinger also opined that plaintiff might have a difficult time completing a full workday or workweek on a sustained basis due to difficulties with concentration and attention related to Asperger's. Tr. 291. The ALJ rejected this opinion as inconsistent with plaintiffs work activities, performance ofhousehold chores, his help with his son's homework, and driving his wife and child in the car. Tr. 16. Plaintiff worked for two years as a library aid four days a week, worked for over twenty years giving private lessons as a music teacher one day a week, worked for nearly 30 years one day per week tuning pianos and worked three months full time unloading trucks. Tr. 220. In addition, plaintiffs wife does not drive so he shuttles his wife and son and is always there ifhis 19 year old autistic son needs help on life matters or school work. Tr. 233. The ALJ appropriately found such activities inconsistent with Dr. Stradinger's opinion and rejected it. See, e.g., Rollins v. Massanari, 261 F.3d 853, 856 (9th Cir. 2001).

C. Dr. Noah Roost

Dr. Roost assessed plaintiff with a GAF score of 48. Plaintiff argues that this is a score that indicates inability to work. The GAF score by itself is not dispositive of disability. Indeed, Dr. Roost failed to list any specific functional limitations and the ALJ rejected therefore rejected it. The ALJ also rejected it because of its reliance on plaintiffs subjective testimony which, as noted above, lacks credibility, and its inconsistency with plaintiffs work activity. Tr. 17. This is ...

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