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Ian G. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 28, 2018

IAN G., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael McShane United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On March 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI and DIB, alleging disability as of December 1, 2013. After a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act from December 1, 2013 through September 7, 2016. Tr. 27.[1] Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinion of a treating psychologist. Because the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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, we 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)).

         DISCUSSION

         The Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 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 the claimant satisfies his burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step five, the Commissioner must show that 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, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 416.920(a)(4)(v). If, however, the Commissioner proves that the claimant is able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations:

He can understand and remember simple instructions: he has sufficient concentration, persistence or pace to complete simple, routine tasks for a normal workday and workweek with normal breaks; he should have only occasional brief superficial interactions with the general public and coworkers; and he is able to accept supervision.

         Tr. 22.

         In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ gave little weight to the opinion of Dr. Carl Lloyd, Ph.D., Plaintiff's treating psychologist. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in discounting Dr. Lloy'd opinion.

         Where there exists conflicting medical evidence, the ALJ is charged with determining credibility and resolving any conflicts. Chaudhry v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 661, 671 (9th Cir. 2012). When a treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another medical opinion, the ALJ may reject the opinion of a treating physician only by providing “specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007). Generally, a treating doctor's opinion is entitled to more weight than an examining doctor's opinion, which in turn is entitled to more weight than a reviewing doctor's opinion. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir. 2014).

         Dr. Lloyd treated Plaintiff from April through July 2014, and again from December 2014 through May 2015. On March 27, 2015, Dr. Lloyd completed a Mental Impairment Questionnaire, Tr. 746-47, and a Mental RFC Assessment, Tr. 750-750-52. Dr. Lloyd opined Plaintiff had extreme limitations regarding maintaining social functioning and in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace. Tr. 746. Dr. Lloyd commented, “I doubt that any accommodation or set of accommodations would permit Ian to ever work in setting which required ATTN, social interactions etc.” Tr. 746 (emphasis in original). Dr. Lloyd concluded Plaintiff's attention and concentration would be impaired approximately 95% of the time to such a degree that Plaintiff could not be expected to perform even simple work tasks. Tr. 747 (even “simple tasks would prove unbearable for [Plaintiff].”).

         As relevant here, Dr. Lloyd concluded Plaintiff would have severe limitations[2] with: ability to maintain attention and concentration for at least two straight hours with at least four such sessions in a workday; ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted, ability to complete a normal workday and work week without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a constant pace without unreasonable number and length of rests; ability to interact appropriately with the general public or customers; ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior ...


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