United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
AIKEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Abe. L. S. 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") under Titles II and XVI of the Act. For the
reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is
reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
7, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for DIB that alleged
disability since December 31, 2007. Tr. 19, 87, 223-24. On
June 10, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for SSI that
also alleged disability since December 31, 2007. Tr. 19, 87,
225-26. Plaintiff based his request for benefits on autism
spectrum disorder and depression. Tr. 87. The application was
denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Tr. 147-54,
159-64. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") found plaintiff not disabled in a written
decision dated January 4, 2016. Tr. 19-41. The Appeals
Council denied review, and plaintiff subsequently filed a
complaint in this Court. Tr. 1-4.
district court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so
long as 1) it is based on proper legal standards and 2) its
findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231
(9th Cir. 2010). The district court reviews the record as a
whole, and must weigh both evidence that supports and
evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th
Cir. 1985). If evidence presents the possibility for multiple
interpretations and the Commissioner's decision is
rational, the decision must be affirmed because "the
court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner." Edhind 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 that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of
December 31, 2007. Tr. 21; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id §§
416.920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had the following severe impairments: personality
disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
and fibromyalgia. Tr. 21; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(h), (c); id §§
416.920(a)(4)(h), (c). At step three, the ALJ found that
plaintiffs impairments, whether considered singly or
combination, did not meet or equal one of the listed
impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges are so severe
as to preclude substantial gainful activity. Tr. 21-22; 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).
found plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b) except that
plaintiff could only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; could only understand and remember simple
instructions; only has sufficient concentration, persistence,
and pace to complete simple, routine tasks for a normal
workday and workweek with normal breaks; and could only have
occasional brief, superficial interactions with the public
and with co-workers. Tr. 23. At step four, the ALJ found
that, through the date last insured, plaintiff was unable to
perform any of his past relevant work. Tr. 39; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f); id
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (f).
five, the ALJ found plaintiff could perform several jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr.
39-40; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g);
id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g). The ALJ
based this decision on plaintiffs age, education, work
experience, and RFC, and determined that plaintiff could have
performed the requirements of occupations like the following;
motel cleaner, mail sorter, and price marker. Tr. 39-40.
Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and denied
his application for benefits.
alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) rejecting plaintiffs
testimony about the severity of his symptoms and (2)
rejecting the medical opinions of Dr. Loudin, Dr. Williams,
and Nurse Practitioner Paul. I address each argument in turn.
Plaintiff's Symptom Testimony
argues the ALJ failed to provide adequate reasons under the
"clear and convincing" standard to discredit
plaintiffs testimony. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d
995, 1015 (9th Cir. 2014). Defendant argues the ALJ's
disregard for the testimony is supported by substantial
evidence and should be affirmed.
Ninth Circuit applies a two-step approach when reviewing the
ALJ's treatment of a plaintiffs symptom testimony, First,
the ALJ evaluates "whether the claimant has presented
objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment which
could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other
symptoms alleged." Id. at 1014 (quoting
Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 344 (9th Cir.
1991) (en banc)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Second,
"[i]f the claimant satisfies the first step of this
analysis, and there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ
can reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of
[the] symptoms only by offering specific, clear and
convincing reasons for doing so." Id. at
1014-15 (internal quotation marks omitted).
present case, plaintiff alleged that he was unable to work
due to the combination of his physical and mental
impairments. Tr. 57, In particular, plaintiff testified that
his physical pain makes it difficult to walk and on his worst
days he needs to use a wheelchair. Tr. 58. According to
plaintiff, he suffers from invasive thoughts that make it
difficult for him to concentrate. Tr. 58, He explained the
invasive thoughts consist of voices in his head shouting
"very bad things." Tr. 58. Plaintiff also reported
that he struggles with depression and that he is constantly
contemplating suicide. Tr. 58. Additionally, plaintiff
testified that he has difficulty with authority, and that he
has on multiple occasions lost control of his anger and
yelled at his supervisors. Tr. 59.
the ALJ found that plaintiffs "statement concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms
are not credible." Tr. 24, The ALJ did not find, nor
does defendant argue, that plaintiff malingered. Given these
facts, the ALJ was required to support the rejection of
plaintiff s symptom testimony with specific, clear and
rejected plaintiffs symptom testimony for several reasons,
including plaintiffs attempt to apply for two jobs after the
alleged onset date, plaintiffs GAF score of 70, the
Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit ...