United States District Court, D. Oregon
ALEXANDER J. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael McShane United States District Judge.
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.
filed his application for SSI on September 26, 2012, alleging
a disability onset date of August 1, 2012. Tr.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)).
“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 ...