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Crider v. Commissioner Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

October 29, 2017

Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Ann Aiken United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Melissa K. Crider 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 AFFIRMED.


         On November 28, 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. She alleged disability beginning April 4, 2012, due to a coagulation disorder, other diseases of the circulatory system, and affective disorders.

         Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. On May 7, 2015, plaintiff appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled in a written decision issued August 8, 2016. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court.


         The 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. Massanari, 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).


         The 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).

         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); 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)(i)} (b); id §§ 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe impairments:

prothrombin gene mutation with pulmonary embolism; right knee degenerative arthritis with spondopalatia; right shoulder tendonitis; thoracic spine disc protrusion at ¶ 7-8; obesity; obstructive sleep apnea; status post hysterectomy; status post traumatic head injury with headaches; major depressive disorder; panic disorder; pain disorder secondary to psychological factors and general medical condition (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).

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)s (d); id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiffs residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); id § 416.920(e). The ALJ found that plaintiff has:

the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the individual can lift or carry 10 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently; no limitation on sitting; stand or walk two hours total, in any combination, per eight-hour workday with normal breaks, but no more than 15 minutes standing at a time every hour; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional climbing ramps or stairs, stooping, crouching, kneeling, crawling, and balancing; occasional overhead reaching with the right upper extremity; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat or cold; and no exposure to unprotected heights or hazardous machinery. The individual would have the following mental nonexerfional limitations: can perform simple and more complex tasks; would do best working independently but can have superficial contact with coworkers in a non-teamwork setting; would do best with supportive supervision, which would allow flexibility to take normal break times outside the normally structured break times (e.g., take the breaks 15 minutes earlier than the normal times or 15 minutes later than the normal times); and no stressful public environments where the individual would have to deal with member of the public who are confrontational or challenging.

Tr. 23. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff is capable performing past relevant work as a receptionist, accounting clerk, data entry clerk, and manicurist. The ALJ concluded that such work would "not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by [plaintiffs] [RFC]." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f). At step five the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work existing in the national economy; specifically, plaintiff could work as a call out operator or a sewing machine operator. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g)(1). Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied her applications for benefits.


         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ committed four harmful errors with respect to properly crediting key evidence in making his decision, First, plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by not providing clear and convincing reasons for finding plaintiff less than fully credible. Second, plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to correctly assess lay testimony causing legal error. Third, plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject or omit medical opinions. Finally, plaintiff avers the ALJ failed to incorporate all medical findings into plaintiffs RFC causing legal error.

         I. Plaintiff's Subjective Symptom Statements

         I begin by addressing plaintiffs argument that the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for finding ...

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