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Braden v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 18, 2018

KIMBERLY BRADEN, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          THOMAS M. COFFIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff brings this proceeding to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff s application for disability insurance benefits and SSI disability benefits.

         Plaintiff was 34 years old at the time of the alleged onset of disability. She had at least a high school education having obtained a general equivalency diploma. Plaintiff asserted disability based on the alleged impairments of: "scoliosis, degeneration of lumbar, anxiety, intervertebral disc, and lumbago." Tr. 258.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff did not have past relevant work at step four. At step five, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform a significant number of jobs existing in the national economy in representative occupations such as small product assembly, room cleaner, and laundry aid worker.

         Plaintiff, who was represented at the administrative hearing and is represented here, contends that the ALJ erred two ways: in the assessment of evidence from a nurse practitioner; and in the assessment of plaintiff's statements.

         I. Assessing the Evidence of the Nurse Practitioner

         Plaintiff focuses on the evidence from Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Danielle Blackwell. The parties agree Ms. Blackwell is considered a "non-acceptable medical source" and an "other source" under the pertinent SSRs and that the ALJ must provide germane reasons in the opinion for the ALJ's assignment of "little weight" to Ms. Blackwell's opinion.

         The ALJ sufficiently considered Ms. Blackwell's opinion and adequately provided germane reasons for assigning little weight to her opinion. The ALJ noted Ms. Blackwell was not an acceptable medical source under the SSRs, her opinion was inconsistent with medical evidence of record, including claimant's own reporting of her pain level as of 2013, her strength, range of motion and gait upon examination by Dr. Griffin in 2014, and the opinions of two State agency medical consultants, both M.D.s.

         Although plaintiff is correct that non-acceptable medical source opinions should not be discounted merely becasue they are considered "non-acceptable" and can in some instances be assigned great weight depending on six factors, plaintiff does not indicate how those factors are applicable here, or demonstrate that the ALJ had to expressly address those factors in the circumstances of this case. Moreover, as set forth above, the ALJ also provided several reasons for the handling of this evidence that went beyond the "non-acceptable" status. Defendant demonstrates that these reasons are supported by substantial evidence in the record and are germane and that the denial of benefits was appropriate. Plaintiff does not persuasively indicate otherwise.

         II. Assessing Plaintiff's Statements

         Contrary to plaintiff's arguments, the ALJ adequately provided clear and convincing reasons for rejecting plaintiff's statements that were specific and based on substantial evidence.

         The ALJ wrote:

After careful consideration of the evidence, I find that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms ...

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