United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
AIKEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Matthew Eric Fenn 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") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
August 2011, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. He alleged
disability beginning March 1, 2010,  due to degenerative disc
disease, cognitive deficits stemming from head trauma,
bipolar disorder, and PTSD, Plaintiff later amended his
alleged onset date to July 18, 2011, the point at which he
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
On October 10, 2013, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before
an ALJ. At plaintiffs counsel's request, the ALJ held the
record open and ordered a consultative psychological
evaluation to assess plaintiffs cognitive limitations and
traumatic brain injury. On June 17, 2014, the ALJ convened a
second hearing. That hearing addressed the evaluation of the
consultative examiner as well as a second psychological
evaluation, also conducted after the first hearing.
found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued
July 18, 2014. After the Appeals Council denied review,
plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.
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 Soc. Sec, 740 F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir, 2014)
(citation and quotation marks omitted). The court must weigh
"both the evidence that supports and the evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Mayes v.
Massanariy 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 the plaintiff to establish
disability, Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the 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. §
404.1520(a)(4); id. § 416.920(a)(4). At step
one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in
"substantial gainful activity" since the alleged
disability onset date. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)®, (b); id. §§
416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine status post-laminectomy, mild
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, asthma,
bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and
marijuana dependence/abuse." Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c); id.
§§ 416.920(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. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).
then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity
("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id.
§ 416.920(e). In addition to other limitations not
relevant to this appeal, the ALJ found plaintiff was
able to understand, remember, and carry out only simple
instructions that can be learned in 30 days or less. The
claimant cannot have direct public contact. He is able to
perform in a low-stress job, which is defined as work that
involves minimal changes in the work setting and work duties.
Tr. 25. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not
perform any of his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five, however, the ALJ found
that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national
economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a small
products assembler, an electronics assembler, or an office
helper. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g)(1).
Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied
his applications for benefits.
contends the ALJ committed three harmful errors with respect
to the extent of his cognitive limitations. First, plaintiff
argues the ALJ gave little weight to his testimony about the
extent of his mental limitations without providing legally
sufficient justification. Second, plaintiff asserts the ALJ
erred by giving little weight to the opinion of examining
psychologist Dr. Taubenfield. Finally, plaintiff avers the
ALJ improperly ...