United States District Court, D. Oregon
STACEY A. CLOUSE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
E. Haapala, Jr. Attorney for Plaintiff
E. Hebert Assistant United States Attorney
Hill Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant
OPINION & ORDER
A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Stacey Clouse brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)
under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (incorporated by
42 U.S.C. § 1382(c) (3)). The Commissioner's
decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
applied for DIB on May 16, 2012, alleging an onset date of
November 20, 2011. Tr. 166. Her application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 75-87, 97-100. On
January 11, 2013, Plaintiff applied for SSI. Tr. 171-76. On
May 8, 2014, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, for a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Tr. 26-59.
Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to January 1, 2013.
Tr. 34. On May 29, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled. Tr. 20. The Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 2.
alleges disability based on varicose veins and blood clots in
her legs which cause pain and inflammation, or phlebitis. Tr.
31, 37, 188. Plaintiff was 45 years-old at the time of the
administrative hearing. Id. Plaintiff attended
college and was a certified pharmacy technician. Tr. 194.
claimant is disabled if unable to “engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has
lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of
not less than 12 months[.]” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). Disability claims are evaluated according to a
five-step procedure. See, e.g., Valentine v.
Comm'r, 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). The
claimant bears the ultimate burden of proving disability.
first step, the Commissioner determines whether a claimant is
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” If so,
the claimant is not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
416.920(b). In step two, the Commissioner determines whether
the claimant has a “medically severe impairment or
combination of impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137 at 140-41; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c),
416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.
three, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment
meets or equals “one of a number of listed impairments
that the [Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to
preclude substantial gainful activity.”
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is conclusively
presumed disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step
four. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant,
despite any impairment(s), has the residual functional
capacity to perform “past relevant work.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant
can, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot
perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner. In step five, the Commissioner must establish
that the claimant can perform other work. Yuckert,
482 U.S. at 141-42; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) &
(f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the Commissioner meets his
burden and proves that the claimant is able to perform other
work which exists in the national economy, the claimant is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2013, the
alleged onset date. Tr. 12. Next, at steps two and three, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: varicose veins and obesity. Id.
However, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments
did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed
impairment. Tr. 13. At step four, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) and
§ 416.967(a), “except she is further limited to no
more than occasional pushing and pulling with her bilateral
lower extremities. Id. The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr.
18. However, at step five the ALJ found that there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff can perform, such as addresser, sorter, and
photocopy machine operator. Tr. 19. Thus, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff is not disabled. Tr. 20.
reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and the
findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
“Substantial evidence” means “more than a
mere scintilla, but less than preponderance.” Bray
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222
(9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d
1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). It is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id.
court must weigh the evidence that supports and detracts from
the ALJ's conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue,
504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998)). The
reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Id. (citing Robbins v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)); see
also Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001). Variable interpretations of the evidence are
insignificant if the Commissioner's interpretation is a
rational reading. Id.; see also Batson, 359
F.3d at 1193. However, the court cannot not rely upon
reasoning the ALJ did not assert in affirming the ALJ's
findings. Bray, 554 F.3d at 1225-26 (citing SEC
v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 (1947)).
contends that the ALJ erred by (1) rejecting the opinion of
treating physician Dr. McMahon; (2) discounting
Plaintiff's credibility; and (3) dismissing the testimony
of Plaintiff's significant other, Mr. Maerz. The Court
agrees that the ALJ erred in his treatment of Dr.
McMahon's opinion but otherwise affirms the ALJ's
Treating Physician Dr. McMahon
argues that the ALJ erred by rejecting treating provider Dr.
McMahon's opinion. There are three types of medical
opinions in social security cases: those from treating,
examining, and non-examining doctors. Lester v.
Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995). The medical
opinion of a claimant's treating physician is entitled to
“special weight” because “he is employed to
cure and has a greater opportunity to know and observe the
patient as an individual.” Rodriguez v. Bowen,
876 F.2d 759, 761 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). The ALJ
may reject the uncontradicted opinion of a treating or
examining physician by providing clear and convincing reasons
supported by substantial evidence in the record. See
Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31; Andrews, 53 F.3d at
treating or examining doctor's opinion is contradicted by
another doctor's opinion, an ALJ may only reject it by
providing specific and legitimate reasons that are supported
by substantial evidence. Barnhart, 427 F.3d at 1216
(citing Lester, 81 F.3d at 830-31). “The ALJ
can meet this burden by setting out a detailed and thorough
summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence,
stating his interpretation thereof, and making
findings.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747,
751 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). Further, an ALJ may
reject a physician's opinion if it conflicts with the
physician's other findings. Tommasetti v.
Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008). Although
the contrary opinion of a non-treating medical expert does
not alone constitute a specific, ...