United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. MCSHANE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Wendy Kim Pittman seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.
This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
Pittman applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income on May 1, 2012, alleging
disability beginning April 29, 2012. Tr. 16. She applied for
a hearing after her applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 16, 88-91, 93-95. After the hearing, the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a written decision
finding that Ms. Pittman is not disabled. Tr. 13-34. The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Pittman's request for review
of the hearing decision on January 19, 2016, making the
ALJ's decision final. Tr. 1-4. Ms. Pittman argues that
the ALJ erred by failing (1) to credit the opinion of
examining psychologist, Dr. Wahl; (2) to give proper
consideration to the opinion of treating psychiatrist, Dr.
Martin; (3) to give clear and convincing reasons for not
crediting Ms. Pittman's testimony; and (4) to give proper
consideration to Ms. Pittman's husband's lay witness
testimony. Additionally, Ms. Pittman claims that the
Commissioner failed to prove that Ms. Pittman retains the
ability to perform "other work." For the reasons
stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision
if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the
legal 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 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 v. Astrue, 698 F.3d
1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine
whether substantial evidence exists, we review the
administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence
that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's
conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th
Cir. 1989). "'If the evidence can reasonably support
either affirming or reversing, ' the reviewing court
'may not substitute its judgment' for that of the
Commissioner." Gutierrez v. Comm V of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir.
claimant is disabled if she cannot "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).
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2012).
The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet
the first four steps but shifts to the Commissioner for step
five if claimant satisfies her burden with respect to the
first four steps. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one, the SSA considers whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; if she is, the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At
step two, the SSA considers the medical severity of the
claimant's impairment. Id. The agency will find
the claimant not disabled if the impairment is not severe
enough. Id. At step three, the claimant will be
found disabled if her impairment is of sufficient duration
and it meets or equals a list of impairments. Id. If
the impairment does not meet these requirements, then the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) is
determined. Id. The claimant's RFC is an
assessment of the greatest level of work that she can do
based on an analysis of the effects of all limitations
evident in her record on the physical, mental, sensory, and
other requirements of work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1).
At step four, the SSA looks at the claimant's past work
and RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). If the claimant is
able to do her past work the claimant is not disabled.
five, the Commissioner bears the burden of demonstrating that
although the claimant is unable to do past relevant work she
is capable of making an adjustment to other work.
Id. To make that determination, the SSA considers
the claimant's vocational factors: her RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Id. If the
Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, then the claimant is not disabled. Id.
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Pittman had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the claimed disability
date. Tr, 18. At step two, the ALJ found that Ms.
Pittman's "partial complex seizures; cognitive
disorder, not otherwise specified; major depressive disorder;
borderline intellectual functioning; and generalized anxiety
disorder" qualified as severe impairments under 20
C.F.R. §404.1520(c). Tr. 18. At step three, the ALJ
found that Ms. Pittman's impairments did not meet or
equal any listed impairment. Tr. 18. Between steps three and
four, the ALJ found Ms. Pittman had the RFC "to perform
a full range of work at all exertional levels" with
nonexertional exceptions. Tr. 20. At step four, the ALJ found
that Ms. Pittman was unable to perform her past relevant
work. Tr. 27. At step five, the ALJ found that Ms. Pittman
was not disabled because there were jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that she could
perform. Tr. 27. In doing so, the ALJ considered Ms,
Pittman's age, education, work experience, and RFC. Tr.
I. Medical Opinions
Pittman contends that the ALJ wrongly discounted the opinions
of both an examining psychologist, Dr. James Wahl, and the
treating psychiatrist, Dr. James Martin. An ALJ must provide
clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial
evidence in order to reject an uncontradicted opinion of a
treating or examining physician. Ghanim v,
Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1160-61 (9th Cir. 2014). That
said, the ALJ is responsible for resolving ambiguities in the
medical evidence. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d
1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008)(citing Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995)). The ALJ
can resolve ambiguities in medical evidence and meet the
burden for rejecting a physician's opinion "by
setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and
conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation
thereof, and making findings." Cotton v. Bowen,
799 F.2d 1403, 1408 (9th Cir. 1986)(citing Swanson v.
Secretary, 763 F.2d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 1985)). The ALJ
met that burden here.
Dr. Wahl's Opinion
Pittman argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion
of her examining psychologist, Dr. Wahl. Dr. Wahl evaluated
Ms. Pittman once, on October 11, 2012. Tr. 256-65. The ALJ
gave significant weight to Dr. Wahl's objective test
results, but only some weight to Dr. Wahl's opinion. Tr.
24. Ultimately, she found his single evaluation of Ms.
Pittman to be less consistent with the evidence of record
than that of Dr. Martin, the treating psychiatrist. Tr. 25.
Ms. Pittman asserts that the ALJ did not actually give
significant weight to the objective test results, because Dr.
Wahl's tests document Ms. Pittman's markedly impaired
concentration and pace, which the ALJ discounted. In making
this argument, Ms. Pittman ...