United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael McShane United States District Judge.
Jason Lee Edwards brings this action for judicial review of
the Commissioner's decision denying his application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) and
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). This court
has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
October 14, 2010, Edwards filed his application for SSI and
DIB, alleging disability as of that date. After a hearing,
the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) determined
Edwards was not disabled under the Social Security Act from
October 14, 2010 through August 30, 2012. Tr.
Edwards appealed and, following a stipulated remand from the
district court, the ALJ conducted two more hearings.
Following those hearings, the ALJ again concluded Edwards was
not disabled. Tr. 554-55. This appeal followed.
argues the ALJ erred in finding him less-than credible, in
rejecting the opinion of his treating physician and in
weighing other medical opinions, in not finding several
impairments to be “severe” at step two, in
rejecting the opinions of Edwards's mother and father,
and in formulating an insufficient residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) at step five, leading to an
erroneous hypothetical to the vocational expert
(“VE”). Many of Edwards's assignments of
error are somewhat generalized arguments essentially
attacking the RFC while arguing the evidence demonstrates
Edwards is disabled. I consider Edwards's main arguments
to be that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of his
treating physician and in finding that Edwards could read at
the General Educational Development (“GED”) level
of one. Because the Commissioner's decision is based on
proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence,
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'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir.
Social Security Administration utilizes 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. If the claimant satisfies his
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 must show 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. If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden,
then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the
Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante v.
Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001).
relevant here, the ALJ ultimately found Edwards had the RFC
to perform light work provided: the work was unskilled, entry
level work in a routine environment; Edwards have no
“transactional” work with the public; the job has
GED reasoning, language, and mathematical development levels
of one. Tr. 536. Based on the VE's testimony, a person
with such an RFC could perform the jobs of laundry worker and
room cleaner. Tr. 544. As noted, Edwards makes several
assignments of error.
first to the argument that the ALJ improperly rejected the
medical opinion of Dr. Steve Becker, Edwards's
longstanding treating physician. Dr. Becker was Edwards's
primary care physician for many years. Dr. Becker treated
Edwards for many ailments ranging from tooth aches to anxiety
issues to back problems. Edwards points to three comments Dr.
Becker wrote in chart notes. On September 20, 2011, Dr.
Becker noted, “applying for disability but has been
denied, now going through court; it would seem unlikely he
can pursue gainful employment.” Tr. 438. On February 2,
2012, Dr. Becker commented, “long standing hx
psycho-neuro dysfunction with diagnosis of dementia along
with depression and anxiety; he is unlikely to be able to
maintain gainful employment; he would seem an appropriate
candidate for disability.” Tr. 435.
11, 2015, Dr. Becker wrote, “Long standing history of
learning disability, cognitive dysfunction and now with
diagnosis of Gerstamann syndrome per specialty clinic in
2010-he has been unable to pursue any reliable employment, he
continues to seek disability which would appear to be
appr[o]priate given his long standing limitations.” Tr.
Dr. Becker's opinions, the ALJ concluded:
In January 2012 and again in June 2015, Dr. Becker opined
that the claimant was unlikely to be able to maintain gainful
employment and he was unable to pursue “any reliable
employment.” He felt the claimant would be an
appropriate candidate for disability. Little weight is given
to these opinions. To begin, they are conclusory and not
offered in functional terms. Additionally, they are
inconsistent with the claimant's own reports of searching
for work and his own report that he believed he was unable to
obtain work due to a lack of a high school diploma. They are
also inconsistent with Dr. Becker's treatment records.
For example, his treatment note from May 2015 shows the
claimant's neurologic examination was normal, and on the
SLUMS examination, the claimant's score of 22 was
consistent with mild cognitive dysfunction. Moreover, his
opinion from 2015 appears to be in part based on his belief
the claimant was diagnosed with ...