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Williams v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 9, 2018

COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Michael McShane United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Alexander J. Williams (“Williams”) seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Because the Commissioner's decision is not based on proper legal standards and is not supported by substantial evidence, the decision is AFFIRMED.


         Williams filed his application for SSI on September 26, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 2012. Tr. 56.[1] After the Commissioner denied the applications initially and upon reconsideration, Williams requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held on November 5, 2014. Tr. 27-55. On January 16, 2015, ALJ Marilyn S. Mauer issued a written decision finding Williams not disabled. Tr. 10-20. On May 23, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Williams' subsequent request for review, so the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. This appeal followed.


         The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on proper legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “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.'” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1159 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, I review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989). “If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, ‘the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment' for that of the Commissioner.” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1996)).


         A claimant is disabled if he or she is unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation to determine disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920 (2012). The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. If a claimant satisfies his or her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner must demonstrate the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience. Id. If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, the claimant is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is found not disabled. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001).

         At step one, the ALJ determined Williams had not worked since September 26, 2012, the application date. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Williams had the following severe impairments: chronic right shoulder pain status post multiple dislocations and four surgeries for SLAP repair; Bankart lesion; rotator cuff repair and subacromial decompression; and chronic migraine headache. Tr. 12. Between steps three and four, the ALJ assessed Williams' RFC. She determined Williams retains the capacity to perform light work, except that he is limited to lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently with the left upper extremity only and cannot perform any lifting with the right upper extremity; due to shoulder pain when his arm is dependent, he can stand and walk no more than four out of eight hours; he can sit without limitation; he can never perform forceful pushing or pulling with the right upper extremity; he can occasionally reach in all planes with his right upper extremity; he can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; he should not be exposed to hazards such as unprotected heights or large moving equipment; he can frequently balance, stoop, and crouch; he can occasionally kneel and crawl; he has no limits in the use of his left hand; he can use his right hand for unlimited handling, fingering, and feeling when the arm is supported close to his body and for occasional handling, fingering, and feeling when the arm is not supported close to his body; and due to the impact of pain on concentration, persistence, and pace, he can understand, remember, and carry out only simple instructions. Tr. 14-15. At step four, the ALJ found Williams did not have any past relevant work. Tr. 18. At step five, based on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ concluded that Williams could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including final inspector of hand packaging processes, loader monitor, and toll collector, parking. Tr. 19.

         William contends the ALJ: (1) erroneously discredited his symptom testimony; (2) erroneously rejected lay witness testimony provided by his wife, (3) failed to consider the effects of his migraines in formulating an RFC; and (4) erroneously found plaintiff could perform other work in the national economy based on the assessed RFC.

         I. Credibility Analysis

         Williams argues the ALJ erred by rejecting her subjective symptom testimony. An ALJ is not “required to believe every allegation of disabling pain, or else disability benefits would be available for the asking, a result plainly contrary to 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A).” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir.1989)).

         The ALJ “may consider a range of factors in assessing credibility.” Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1163 (9th Cir. 2014). These factors can include “ordinary techniques of credibility evaluation, ” id., as well as:

(1) whether the claimant engages in daily activities inconsistent with the alleged symptoms; (2) whether the claimant takes medication or undergoes other treatment for the symptoms; (3) whether the claimant fails to follow, without adequate explanation, a prescribed course of treatment; and ...

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