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Wood v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

July 20, 2015

JANELLE I. WOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT E. JONES, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Janelle Wood appeals the Commissioner's decision to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act") and to deny in part her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

When Wood filed her Title II and Title XVI applications, she alleged disability beginning February 16, 2006. She later amended the alleged onset of disability to December 21, 1999. Her insured status under the Act expired on December 31, 1999. Wood must establish that she became disabled on or before that date to prevail on her Title II claim. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A); Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1998). Wood alleged disability from chronic cervical spine strain, dysthymic disorder, learning disorder, anxiety disorder, obesity, and lumbar degenerative disc disease for which she underwent surgery in 2007.

The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") applied the sequential disability determination process described in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and § 416.920. He determined that from the alleged onset of disability until August 2007, Wood's chronic cervical spine strain, dysthymic disorder, and learning disorder limited her ability to do basic work. He concluded that Wood's condition did not satisfy the criteria for any of the presumptively disabling conditions in the regulatory Listing of Impairments. The ALJ determined that, until August 28, 2007, Wood retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a modified range of light work and was capable of withstanding the normal demands of an eight-hour work day. The vocational expert testified that a person with Wood's RFC could perform the work-related activities required in occupations such as light janitorial work and food prep work, which represent hundreds of thousands of jobs in the national economy. Admin. R. 380-81. Accordingly, the ALJ found Wood was not disabled within the meaning of the Act through August 28, 2007. Admin. R. 396.

The ALJ found that, commencing August 28, 2007, Wood developed additional limitations from lumbar degenerative disc disease, depression, obesity, and anxiety disorder. He found that Wood could no longer withstand a normal full-time work schedule and could not engage in competitive work. Accordingly, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision. He found that Wood had failed to establish disability on or before the expiration of her insured status and denied her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II. He allowed Wood's claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI from August 28, 2007 forward, but denied the claim for any time prior to that date. Admin. R. 396.

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 such relevant evidence that "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005); See also Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) ("Substantial evidences means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.") (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Under this standard, the Commissioner's factual findings must be upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record even if evidence exists to support another rational interpretation. 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

Wood contends the ALJ erred at step two by omitting depression and anxiety from the severe impairments he identified. Wood contends the ALJ erred at step three by erroneously concluding that her condition did not satisfy the criteria for any presumptively disabling conditions in the regulatory Listings. Wood contends the ALJ failed to assess her RFC accurately because he discounted the credibility of her subjective statements, gave insufficient weight to the opinions of her physicians, and only gave moderate weight to her husband's testimony. Wood argues the ALJ's failure to accurately assess her limitations led him to find her capable of engaging in work through August 28, 2007.

II. Step Two

At step two, the ALJ's task is simply to determine whether any combination of impairments has more than a de minimis impact on the claimant's ability to do basic work activities. Here, the ALJ resolved that question in Wood's favor and properly continued to the remaining steps of the sequential decision-making process. Accordingly, Wood has not alleged any harmful error at step two. See Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 682 (9th Cir. 2005) (any error in omitting an impairment from the list of severe impairments at step two was harmless because step two was resolved in claimant's favor); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909 (9th Cir. 2007) (failure to list impairment as severe at step two was harmless because the limitations posed by the impairment were considered at step four).

III. Step Three

At step three, the claimant bears the burden of showing that her impairments satisfy the criteria for an impairment in the regulatory Listings. Burch, 400 F.3d at 682-83; Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 514 (9th Cir. 2001). For mental impairments, Wood must show that she has marked impairment in two of the four broad categories of function known as the "B Criteria": activities of daily living; social functioning; maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and repeated episodes of decompensation, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App 1, 12.00. The ALJ considered Wood's dysthymic disorder, depression, learning disorder, and anxiety disorder, singly and in combination. He found that these impairments caused moderate restriction of activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, and moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. He found no evidence that Wood experienced episodes of decompensation. The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Wood had failed to show that her mental impairments satisfied the B criteria before her insured status expired on December 31, 1999, or at any time before the date her disability began in August 2007. Admin. R. 392.

Wood contends the opinion of Anthony Gay, M.D. demonstrates that she satisfied the B criteria. Dr. Gay is a family practitioner who provided Wood with primary care during the relevant period of time. Admin. R. 306. In a letter dated August 14, 2009, Dr. Gay said Wood's activities of daily living were moderately impaired. He said she had marked impairment of social functioning, based on her subjective reports of altercations at work and with family members. He estimated marked impairment in concentration, persistence, or pace because he thought her ability to complete tasks would be impeded by unscheduled rest breaks and interruptions due to distractions. Admin. R. 306-07.

The ALJ gave Dr. Gay's opinion moderate weight, but less than full weight regarding the intensity of her chronic neck pain and limitations in mental function. Admin R. 394. An ALJ may reject the opinion of a medically acceptable treating source for "specific, legitimate reasons based on substantial ...


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