United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
RYAN W. KIRKRUFF Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER
Aiken United States District Judge.
Ryan W, Kirkruff brings this action pursuant to the Social
Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to
obtain judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"),
The Commissioner denied plaintiffs applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
April 22, 2009, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging
disability beginning May 11, 2005. Tr. 286. Plaintiff alleged
he suffered from severe back and leg pain due to degenerative
disc disease and fatigue due to adrenal insufficiency. Tr.
312. His application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Tr. 21. On February 22, 2011, plaintiff
appeared at his first disability healing. Tr. 58-98.
Following that hearing, the ALJ found him not disabled and
denied his claim. Tr. 131-41. The Appeals Council remanded
because the ALJ had not adequately explained his decision to
give little weight to the opinion of Dr. Thorsen, a
psychologist. Tr. 151-52. On May 16, 2013, plaintiff appeared
at his second disability hearing. Tr. 100-23. The ALJ held
the record open to permit plaintiff to submit treatment
records from Dr. Thorsen. Tr. 120. At a supplemental hearing
on January 14, 2014, plaintiffs non-attorney representative
explained that Dr. Thorsen had been unresponsive to requests
to produce those records. Tr. 44-57. The ALJ issued a
subpoena, but Dr. Thorsen never produced the records. Tr.
48-49. On May 7, 2014, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled.
Tr. 21-36, The Appeals Council denied review, and plaintiff
filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 1.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if
it is based upon 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." Gutierrez v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir.
2014) (quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh
"both the evidence that supports and the evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v.
Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001). If the
evidence is subject to more than one interpretation but the
Commissioner's decision is rational, the Commissioner
must be affirmed, because "the court may not substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edhmd v.
Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
initial burden of proof rests upon plaintiff to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, plaintiff 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).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process
for determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1502(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not
engaged in "substantial gainful activity" since the
alleged disability onset date. Tr. 24; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: "chronic pain
syndrome secondary to lumbar degenerative disc disease,
status post microlaminectomy, discectomy and microdiscectomy
x2 at L4-L5, without significant central canal or foraminal
stenosis; adrenal insufficiency; hypogonadism; generalized
anxiety disorder (GAD); personality disorder NOS; [and]
dysthymic disorder[.]" Tr, 24; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c). At step three, the ALJ determined
plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or in
combination, did not meet or equal "one of the listed
impairments" that the Commissioner acknowledges are so
severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr. 24;
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d).
found plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to
perform a range of light exertion work as defined in 20
[C.F.R. §] 404 1567(b). He could lift 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He was able to sit,
stand and walk for each 30 minutes at a time. He was able to
sit for a total of four hours and to stand/walk for a total
of four hours, for combined total of eight hours of activity.
He required the option to sit or stand at will, while still
completing essential tasks. Mr. Kirkruff occasionally could
crouch, stoop, crawl, kneel, and climb ramps/stairs, He could
not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could never be
exposed to hazards such as unprotected heights or large
moving equipment. Mr, Kirkruff had the ability to understand,
remember and carry out simple instructions in a setting with
no public contact, no teamwork assignments, and no strict
production pace requirements (defined as no hourly rate so
long as adequate work is completed by the end of the
Tr. 26; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). At step four, the ALJ
concluded plaintiff would be unable to perform any past
relevant work. Tr. 35; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
(f). At step five, the ALJ found plaintiff could perform
several jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy: label coder, collator, and hand-packager. Tr. 35; 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g). Accordingly, the
ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied his application
for benefits, Tr. 36.
asserts the ALJ erred in two ways. First, plaintiff
challenges the ALJ's decision to give less than full
weight to the opinions of Dr. Ganter, plaintiffs treating
primary care physician; Dr. Thorsen, the psychologist whose
opinion was the basis for the Appeals Council's remand;
and Dr. Stowell, a consultative physician. Second, plaintiff
contends the ALJ erred in finding plaintiffs testimony about
the severity of his pain and other symptoms not credible,
Because the weight of plaintiffs symptom testimony affects
the analysis of the doctors' opinions, I address the
symptom statements first, I then turn to plaintiffs arguments
regarding the medical opinions.
Plaintiffs Subjective ...