United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
AIKEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Karie K. brings this action pursuant to the Social Security
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"). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed,
March 2013, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI. She alleged
disability beginning March 27, 2013,  due to hyperthyroidism,
depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, and sleep
deprivation. Plaintiffs applications were denied initially
and upon reconsideration, On March 2, 2016, plaintiff
appeared at a hearing before an ALJ. At that hearing, she was
represented by a non-attorney representative. On March 23,
2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not
disabled. After the Appeals Council denied review, plaintiff
filed a complaint in this Court.
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. Massanar, 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." Edhmd v.
Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant 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. Tr. 22; 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); id. § 416,
920(a)(4)(i), (b). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff
suffers from "the following severe impairments:
personality disorder, not otherwise specified with
schizotypal traits; dysthymic disorder; anxiety disorder, not
otherwise specified; dependent personality disorder;
attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); major
depressive disorder and history of alcohol abuse[.]" Tr.
22; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(h),
(c); id. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c).
three, the ALJ determined 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. Tr. 24; 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d); id. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d). The ALJ found plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
"perform a full range of work at all exertional levels
but with the following non-exertional limitations: The
claimant is capable of understanding, remembering and
carrying out simple, repetitive tasks involving no more than
occasional contact with the public and coworkers." Tr.
26; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e);
id. § 416.920(e).
four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff could perform her past work
as a food preparer/cook helper. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (f); id. §
416.920(a)(4)(iv). In the alternative, the ALJ found at step
five that plaintiff could perform the jobs of janitor, hand
packager, or laborer of stores. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g)(1); id. §
416.920(a)(4)(v), (g)(1). Accordingly, the ALJ found
plaintiff not disabled and denied her applications for
contends that the ALJ committed several harmful errors in
issuing her disability decision. First, plaintiff challenges
the ALJ's decision to give partial or no weight to the
opinions of two examining doctors. Second, plaintiff contends
that the ALJ rejected plaintiffs description of her
subjective symptoms without providing clear, convincing
reasons for that rejection. Third, plaintiff asserts that the
ALJ improperly discounted the third-party statement of
plaintiffs friend, And fourth, plaintiff avers that the ALJ
erred at step four when she concluded that plaintiff was
capable of performing her past work.
first argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of
two examining doctors: Paula Belcher, Ph.D, and Mary Bean,
Ph.D. There 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; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d). Where
there is a conflict between two medical opinions, the ALJ may
rely on the medical opinion of a non-treating doctor instead
of the contrary opinion of a treating doctor only if the ALJ
provides "specific and legitimate" reasons
supported by substantial evidence in the record,
Holohan, 246 F.3d at 1202. Medical opinions may
address both the nature of the plaintiffs limitations and the
ultimate issue of disability, i.e., whether the
plaintiff is capable of any work, given her limitations.
Id. Although the ultimate decision regarding
disability is reserved to the Commissioner, 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e)(1), the rules governing consideration of medical
opinions apply with equal force to opinions on the ultimate
issue of disability, Reddick v. Chafer, 157 F.3d
715, 725 (9th Cir, 1998).
Opinion of Dr. Belcher
Belcher performed a psychological assessment of plaintiff in
October 2013. She observed that plaintiff had "a rather
odd presentation" and was "somewhat scattered in
her thought processes. Her manner of speech is odd, with
latent responses and mutterings to herself at times. She
perseverates about wireless services causing health problems
for herself and others." Tr. 436. Dr. Belcher documented
"symptoms of depression that meet the criteria for major
depressive disorder, which appears to be recurrent" yet
"mild" and "does not appear to interfere
significantly in daily functioning or in her infrequent
social activities." Id. Dr. Belcher noted
plaintiffs sporadic work history and opined that "she is
likely a poor employee due to her odd manners of speech and
beliefs," Id. The ALJ gave "some
weight" to Dr. Belcher's assessment because it was
"consistent with the claimant's mental status
exam" and "generally consistent with claimant's
demonstrated function/reported activities[.]" Tr, 31.
However, the ALJ gave "little weight to the
psychologist's opinion that claimant is 'likely to be
a poor employee due to her odd manner of speech and
beliefs.'" Id. (quoting Tr, 436). The ALJ
found that particular statement was "not tantamount to ...