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Olsen v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 22, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ANN AIKEN, District Judge.

This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIE) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Upon review, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


On September 17, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI. Both filings alleged an onset disability date of July 1, 2006. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Shortly thereafter, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled as of the alleged onset date. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which denied the request for review. Plaintiff then sought judicial review.

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 quotations 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 the ALJ erred by: 1) improperly discounting Plaintiff's testimony; 2) improperly discounting lay witness statements; and 3) failing to incorporate the above evidence into the residual functional capacity (RFC) The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision is supported by legally sufficient reasons and that this Court should affirm the Commissioner's decision.

I. The ALJ's Evaluation of Plaintiff's Credibility

Plaintiff first contends that the ALJ improperly evaluated her testimony. Once a claimant produces medical evidence of an impairment, the Commissioner may discredit the claimant's testimony as to the severity of symptoms only with clear and convincing reasons. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). In making these determinations, the ALJ is allowed to use ordinary techniques used in the evaluation of credibility. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). For example, "[i]f a claimant is able to spend a substantial part of [her] day engaged in pursuits involving the performance of physical functions that are transferable to a work setting, a specific finding as to this fact may be sufficient to discredit a claimant's allegations." Morgan v. Comm'r. of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 600 (9th Cir. 1999). The ALJ may also consider inconsistent or unexplained claimant testimony, failure to follow a course of treatment or recommendations of doctors, evidence of self-limiting behaviors, and a claimant's work history. See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002); see Molina, 674 F.3d at 1112.

Plaintiff alleges that she has severe limitations such as limited mobility in her shoulder, a lack of ability to walk or sit for extended periods of time, diabetes, PTSD that does not allow her to interact with people without becoming irritated, extreme migraines, and back and abdomen spasms. Tr. 106, 108, 110, 112-13, 116-18, 120-22. Due to these impairments, Plaintiff claims she is disabled. The ALJ provided three reasons for his adverse credibility finding. They are: 1) inconsistencies between her alleged functional limitations and her daily activities; 2) Plaintiff's lack of candor and truthfulness with her doctor; and 3) the conservative treatment provided to treat her medical issues. Tr. 33-34. I find that the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons for his credibility evaluation.

The record supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff made several statements that are inconsistent with her daily activities. For example, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was able to perform household chores such as laundry, washing the dishes, and vacuuming. Tr. 33, 98-101. Additionally, the ALJ cited activities in which the Plaintiff interacts with people, such as shopping, talking on the phone and visiting friends and family. Tr. 33, 98-99, 105. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff spends time with her long-term boyfriend and neighbor everyday and that they go out to dinner occasionally. Tr. 99, 104. Finally, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was able to care for her young daughter by driving her to school, dressing her, and taking care of her at night for much of the time. Tr. 33, 100, 102, 401.

These activities are inconsistent with the severity of the limitations Plaintiff alleges. For example, Plaintiff alleges that she has severe deliberating migraines four to five times a week that last for days at a time, during which she lays in the fetal position and covers her ears and eyes with towels and pillows. Tr. 110-111, 114. This is inconsistent with her daily activities of basic cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. Plaintiff also alleges, for example, that her PTSD causes her to be closed off, angry, depressed, and unable to interact with people such as supervisors or co-v., rorkers. Tr. 74-75, 91, 116, 121. However, the severity of this ...

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