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Wood v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Oregon

May 5, 2017

MATHEW M. WOOD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Michael McShane United State District Judge

         Plaintiff Mathew M. Wood filed his application for disability insurance benefits on April 23, 2012. Tr. 25.[1] After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) issued a written decision finding Wood not disabled. Tr. 25-34.

         Wood brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Because the ALJ's decision was based on the proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ's decision is AFFIRMED.


         The 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 for 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, the court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's decision. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989).


         The Social Security Administration utilizes a five step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If the claimant satisfies her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience. Id.

         Before considering step four of the sequential analysis, the ALJ determined that Wood has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, with certain exceptions. Tr. 29. The certain exceptions are that Wood is limited to “no more than occasional kneeling, crouching, crawling, stooping, or climbing. He could frequently balance. He had to avoid exposure to vibrations.” Tr. 29. In determining Wood's RFC, the ALJ found that Wood's medically determinable impairments could have caused the alleged symptoms but that Wood's statements regarding the intensity of the alleged symptoms were not entirely credible because they contradicted objective medical evidence, improved with treatment, and contradicted his daily activities. Tr. 30-33. Wood argues that the ALJ failed to adequately reject, or even include in the RFC determination, his testimony regarding his memory impairments caused by his medication. Pl.'s Br. 7, ECF No. 14. Thus, at issue is the ALJ's credibility determination of Wood's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his pain and symptoms, as well as his statements regarding the side effects of his medication, in the ALJ's RFC analysis under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545.

         1. The ALJ's Adverse Credibility Determination Regarding Wood's Pain and Symptom Testimony

         When assessing a claimant's pain and symptom testimony, the ALJ engages in a two-step analysis. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). In the first step, “the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment ‘which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.'” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 344 (9th Cir. 1991)). If the claimant meets the first step, and the ALJ has not determined that the claimant is malingering, “the ALJ can reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of her symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so.” Id. at 1036 (quoting Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th Cir. 1996)). The reasons for doing so must be “sufficiently specific to permit the reviewing court to conclude that the ALJ did not arbitrarily discredit the claimant's testimony.” Orteza v. Shalala, 50 F.3d 748, 750 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The ALJ “may consider a range of factors [when] assessing credibility.” Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154. 1163 (9th Cir. 2014). These factors can include, but are not limited to:[2]

(1) whether the claimant engages in daily activities inconsistent with the alleged symptoms; (2) whether the claimant takes medication or undergoes other treatment for the symptoms; (3) whether the claimant fails to follow, without adequate explanation, a prescribed course of treatment; and (4) whether the alleged symptoms are consistent with the medical evidence.

Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1040. In the present case, the ALJ supported his credibility determination with reference to several of the above factors.

         The ALJ found that the objective medical evidence indicated that Wood's symptoms were not as debilitating as he testified. Wood testified that he has trouble getting out of bed, spends most of his day lying down, can only stand in place for 15 minutes at a time, and cannot sit for prolonged periods without numbness and pain in his legs. Tr. 57, 63-64. However, the objective medical evidence indicates otherwise. The ALJ pointed to different medical records indicating that Wood functions at a higher level than alleged. Tr. 30-33. For example, the ALJ noted Dr. Patrick Rask's opinion that Wood demonstrated “normal strength and reflexes in all extremities.” Tr. 31. Most recently, the ALJ noted that the opinion of Dr. Todd Lewis that Wood was able to ambulate with a normal gait pattern, showed good balance and coordination, exhibited full range of motion in his joints, and did not show any signs of atrophy in his lower extremities. Tr. 32. The state agency consultant, Dr. William Habjan, found that Wood “retained the capacity to perform a range of light-level exertion involving no more than two hours of standing/walking in an 8-hour workday.” Tr. 32. During a 2011 examination, Wood “sat for 1 hour through the interview and without any significant pain behavior.” Tr. 459. These opinions, along with evidence in the record, are in direct conflict with Wood's pain and symptom testimony that the ALJ referenced before discussing the objective medical evidence. See Tr. 30-32. The ALJ's finding that Wood's ...

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