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McGrew v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

October 18, 2017

ISAAC HENRY MCGREW, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert E. Jones United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Isaac McGrew appeals the Commissioner's decision denying his application for supplemental security income payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). I AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         McGrew applied for supplemental security income alleging he became disabled on January 1, 2010, due to borderline personality disorder and anxiety. Admin. R. 66, 79, 166, 185. He alleged these conditions caused him to have panic attacks, loss of concentration, inability to understand or follow instructions, and violent reactions when around others. Admin. R. 40, 49, 190-191.

         The ALJ applied the sequential disability determination process described in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 and Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). The ALJ found McGrew's ability to perform basic work activities was limited by anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Admin. R. 21. The ALJ found that, despite these impairments, McGrew retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to work at all levels of exertion, limited to simple, repetitive, routine tasks requiring no more than occasional interactions with supervisors, coworkers, and others. Admin. R. 24. The vocational expert ("VE") testified that a person with McGrew's age, education, work experience and RFC could perform the activities required in unskilled occupations such as janitor, woodworking machine offbearer, and laundry worker, which represent over two million, three hundred thousand jobs in the national economy. Admin. R. 29, 60. The ALJ concluded that McGrew was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Admin. R.29.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence may be less than a preponderance of the evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Under this standard, the court must consider the record as a whole, and uphold the Commissioner's factual findings that are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence, even if another interpretation is also rational. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882; Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 -40 (9th Cir. 1995).

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         The plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the ALJ erred and that any error was harmful. Mcleod v. Astrue, 640 F.3d 881, 886-87 (9th Cir. 2011). McGrew contends the ALJ improperly evaluated his subjective symptoms, the opinion of examining psychologist Jennifer Metheny, Ph.D., and the lay witness statement of his former fiancee Savanna Ferguson. McGrew contends these errors led the ALJ to improperly conclude that he retained the capacity to work and was not disabled.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Subjective Symptoms

         In his written application, McGrew alleged that he had a personality disorder that caused him to react to other people with excessive anger and high anxiety. Admin. R. 79-80, 166, 185. He had difficulty containing his anxiety when around others for extended periods. Admin. R. 186. He said he experienced panic attacks and urges to act with physical violence when around others. Admin. R. 190. These symptoms made it difficult for him to complete tasks or understand instructions when others are present. Admin. R. 190. At the administrative hearing, McGrew testified that he could not work because he could not be around other people without erupting in violence. Admin. R. 40-42. He would not be able to do even simple tasks, because he would start to shake and shut down. Admin. R. 50.

         The ALJ believed that McGrew suffered from anxiety disorder, depression, and a borderline personality disorder with symptoms that made it difficult for him to work, particularly around other people. He found, however, that McGrew's symptoms were not so intense and persistent that they precluded him from engaging in work limited to simple, repetitive, routine tasks with only occasional interactions with others. Admin. R. 24-25.

         When a claimant produces objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms alleged and no affirmative evidence of malingering exists, the ALJ must assess the credibility of the claimant's statements about the severity of symptoms. The ALJ is not to engage in wide-ranging scrutiny of the claimant's character, but to focus on the intensity and persistence of his symptoms. Treviso v. ...


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