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Mankin v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 22, 2015

VICKI L. MANKIN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Defendant.

DREW L. JOHNSON, Eugene, OR, JOHN E. HAAPALA, Eugene, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

RONALD K. SILVER, Assistant United States Attorney, Portland, OR, SARAH L. MARTIN, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel Seattle, WA, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MALCOLM F. MARSH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Vicki L. Martin seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C §§ 401-403. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). For the reasons that follow, I affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on December 2, 2010, alleging disability as of September 1, 2006 due to arthritis in left knee; arthritis in right knee; and back pain. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements for a DIB application through December 31, 2010.

Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). An ALJ held a hearing on January 16, 2013, at which plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Vernon G. Arne also appeared at the hearing and testified. On March 13, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

Born in 1958, plaintiff was 54 years old on the date of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. Plaintiff has a eighth grade education. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of September 1, 2006 through her date last insured, December 31, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity; chronic left shoulder pain; left shoulder adhesive capsulitis; gastroesophageal reflux disease; history of alcohol abuse in remission; and mild bilateral knee degenerative joint disease. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.

The ALJ assessed plaintiff with a residual functional capacity (RFC) to light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567 but with the following limitations. Plaintiff can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and can stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. Plaintiff can occasionally reach overhead with her left, non-dominant arm and occasionally crouch and crawl. Plaintiff should avoid exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery.

At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform, such as first aid attendant, photocopy operator, survey worker, and mold machine operator. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from September 1, 2006 through December 31, 2010, the date last insured.

ISSUES ON REVIEW

On appeal to this court, plaintiff contends the following errors were committed: (1) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate plaintiff's testimony; (2) the ALJ erred in assessing the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician; (3) the ALJ erred in weighing lay testimony; and (4) because of these errors, the hypothetical posed to the vocational expert was invalid.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Hill, 698 F.3d at 1159 (internal quotations omitted); Valentine, 574 F.3d at 690. The court must weigh all the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's decision must be upheld, even if the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Batson v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). If the evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusion, the Commissioner must be affirmed; "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

DISCUSSION

I. The ALJ Did Not Err in Evaluating Plaintiff's Credibility

A. Standards

To determine whether a claimant's testimony regarding subjective pain or symptoms is credible, an ALJ must perform a two stage analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.12629. The first stage is a threshold test in which the claimant must produce objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms alleged. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008). At the second stage of the credibility analysis, absent affirmative evidence of malingering, the ALJ must provide clear and convincing reasons for discrediting the claimant's testimony regarding the severity of the symptoms. Carmickle v. Commissioner Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1161 (9th Cir. 2008); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007).

The ALJ must make findings that are sufficiently specific to permit the reviewing court to conclude that the ALJ did not arbitrarily discredit the claimant's testimony. Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1163 (9th Cir. 2014); Tommasetti, 533 F.3d at 1039. Factors the ALJ may consider when making such credibility determinations include the objective medical evidence, the claimant's treatment history, the claimant's daily activities, inconsistencies in testimony, effectiveness or adverse ...


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