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Walker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

September 30, 2017

JO LYNN WALKER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Jo Lynn Walker, 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 application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.


         On June 27, 2011, plaintiff, Jo Lynn Walker, filed for an application for SSI, alleging disability as of March 4, 1993 based on a number of conditions including fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, speech problems, bone spurs, past seizures, tendonitis, bursitis, Reynaud's of the right hand, anxiety and back problems. Tr. 234-40, 256, 264, Her application I was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Tr. 116-23, 127-28, 133-35. Plaintiff then I requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held on February 26, 2015. Tr. 31-67. The ALJ ordered a consultative physical examination and held a supplemental hearing on August 28, 2015. Tr, 53, 68-92. On September 3, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff s claim for benefits. Tr. 13-30. The Appeals Council denied review on March 25, 2016. Tr. 1-7, 9-12. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the agency from which plaintiff now seeks review. Plaintiff subsequently filed the present complaint in this Court, (doc. 1)


         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as 1) it is based on proper legal standards and 2) its findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010). The district court reviews the record as a whole, and must weigh both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). If evidence presents the possibility for multiple interpretations and the Commissioner's decision is rational, the decision must be affirmed because "the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).


         The 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).

         The 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). At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since June 27, 2011, her application date. Tr. 18; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; lumbar spine degenerative disk disease; lumbosacral neuritis; facet anthropathy; asthma; adjustment disorder; depressive disorder, NOS; anxiety disorder, NOS; PTSD; bipolar disorder; pain disorder; and borderline personality disorder. Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c). At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or 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. 19; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b), with the following limitations: no more than standing and/or walking four hours out of an eight-hour work day, but no more than one hour at a time; no more than occasionally climbing ramps or stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no more than frequent bilateral reaching, handling, fingering, feeling, pushing, pulling, or bilateral foot control operation; must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poorly ventilated areas; simple instructions; no more than occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors. Tr. 20; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e). . Tr. 21. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff has no past relevant, opining that while the record shows some earnings in the past 15 years, the claimant did not perform such work at substantial gainful activity levels. Tr. 24; 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. Tr. 24-25; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g). The ALJ based this decision on plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, and determined, pursuant to the vocation expert testimony, that plaintiff could have performed the requirements of occupations such as the following: addresser, polisher, and stuffer. Tr. 26. Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied her application for benefits.


         Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) improperly rejecting medical opinion evidence, namely the opinions of and (2) failing to provide clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence to discredit Plaintiffs symptom testimony. I address each argument in turn.

         I. Medical Opinion Evidence

          Plaintiff argues that that the ALJ erred in discounting the treating and examining source opinions from Julie Hargraves, LCSW; Hugh Henderson, MD; Anthony Glassman, MD.

         A. Dr. Glassman's ...

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