United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Aiken United States District Judge.
Eddie Lee Knuckles 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 Social
Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
20, 2011, plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB
and SSI. He alleged disability beginning November 5, 2010,
due to chromium exposure, ankylosing spondylitis, and alcohol
abuse. Plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications were denied
initially and upon reconsideration, with the reconsideration
denial dated June 19, 2012. On October 11, 2013, plaintiff
appeared at a hearing before an ALJ and testified. A
vocational expert ("VE") and plaintiffs sister,
Cynthia Ann Humble, also testified. Plaintiff was represented
by an attorney. In a written decision issued October 30,
2013, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. On June 14, 2015,
the Appeals council issued an order remanding the matter to
the ALJ for a new hearing. A second hearing before the ALJ
was held on January 14, 2016. Plaintiff and a VE testified at
the hearing. On February 25, 2016, the ALJ again issued a
written decision finding plaintiff not disabled. After the
Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff filed the present
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 of 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." Edlund
v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
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).
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 of November 5, 2010. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(i), (b); id.
§§ 4l6.92O(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ
found plaintiff had the following severe impairments as of
the alleged onset Dated: ankylosing spondylitis,
osteoarthritis, status-post rotator cuff surgery, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), and
depression. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c);
id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(h), (c).
three, the ALJ determined that 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. §§
4O4.l52O(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. §§
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
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) with the following limitations. The claimant is
limited to no more than occasional stooping, crouching,
kneeling, balancing, crawling, and climbing. The claimant
would also need to avoid more than occasional exposure to
fumes, dust, gases, poor ventilation, and other noxious
odors. The claimant would be limited to simple, repetitive,
routine tasks requiring no more than occasional interaction
with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public.
Tr. 24. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could not
perform any of his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
4O4.l52O(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 painter,
building maintenance manager, and general labor, landscaping.
20 C.F.R. §§ 4O4.l52O(a)(4)(v), (g)(1).
Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied
his applications for benefits.
makes several assignments of error, arguing that: 1.) the ALJ
erred in evaluating the medical evidence offered by treating
and other sources, 2.) the ALJ erred in assessing in
plaintiffs RFC, 3.) the ALJ erred in discrediting plaintiffs
subjective symptom testimony, 4.) the ALJ erred in
discrediting lay witness statements, and 5.) the ALJ erred in
his step five finding. The Commissioner argues that the
ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and
in any error that may have been committed was harmless. I
address each of plaintiffs arguments in turn.
Evaluation of Medical Opinion Evidence
argues that the ALJ erred in not fulling crediting the
limitations set forth by Dr. Mark Hughes M.D., plaintiffs
treating physician, and Counselor Karen Ludwig, LPC.
disability benefits cases . . . physicians may render
medical, clinical opinions, or they may render opinions on
the ultimate issue of disability-the claimant's ability
to perform work." Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d
995, 1012 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Reddick v. Chater,
157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998)). "The ALJ is
responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts
in the medical evidence, and resolving ambiguities."
Vazquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
are three types of medical opinions in Social Security
disability cases: those of treating, examining, and reviewing
physicians. Holohan v. Massanari,246 F.3d 1195,
1201-02 (9th Cir. 2001). "Generally, a treating
physician's opinion carries more weight than an examining
physician's, and an examining physician's opinion
carries more weight than a reviewing physician's."
Id. at 1202; accord 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d). "[C]lear and convincing" reasons are
required to reject a treating doctor's ultimate
conclusions. Lester v. Chater,81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th
Cir. 1995). When a treating doctor's opinion is
contradicted by another doctor, the Commissioner may not
reject this opinion unless the Commissioner ...