United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. MCSHANE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Paul A. brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying his
applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability
Insurance Benefits. This Court has jurisdiction under 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Plaintiff filed
his applications for Supplemental Security Income and
Disability Insurance Benefits on August 19, 2013. In both
applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on
October 1, 2007. After a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social
Security Act. Plaintiff now contends that the ALJ erred in
(1) rejecting portions of his subjective symptom testimony,
(2) discounting portions of the medical opinion testimony of
examining psychologist Cheryl Brischetto, and (3) discounting
portions of the lay opinion testimony of social worker
Heather Germundson and employment support specialist Carolyn
Frank. Because the Commissioner of Social Security's
decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by
substantial evidence, it is AFFIRMED.
reviewing court shall affirm the decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”) if her
decision is based upon 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 for 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, the district court must
review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both
the evidence that supports and detracts from the decision of
the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Davis
v. Heckler, 868 F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989).
Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the
first four steps. If the claimant satisfies 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's burden is to demonstrate
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
present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled.
He first determined that Plaintiff remained insured for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) until
December 31, 2009, but summarily denied Plaintiff's DIB
application because there was “insufficient evidence to
assess the claimant's functioning prior to the date last
insured.” Tr. 17. Next, at step one of the sequential
evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2007, the
alleged onset date of disability. Tr. 13. At step two, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: bipolar disorder; unspecified neurodevelopmental
disorder; and social anxiety disorder. Tr. 13. At step three,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. Tr. 14.
moving to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but
with certain nonexertional limitations. Tr. 16. Specifically,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was limited to superficial
public and coworker contact, unskilled work, and no more than
occasional supervisory contact. Tr. 16. At step four, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Tr. 22.
Nevertheless, at step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
could perform several jobs existing in substantial numbers in
the national economy. Tr. 23. In so finding, he relied on the
testimony of a vocational expert and considered
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC. Tr.
23. Finally, having identified jobs existing in substantial
numbers in the national economy which Plaintiff could
perform, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled
and therefore did not qualify for benefits. Tr. 23.
challenges the ALJ's non-disability determination on
three grounds. First, he argues that the ALJ failed to
provide clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial
evidence for rejecting his symptom testimony. Pl.'s Br.
4-8. Second, he argues that the ALJ improperly discounted
portions of the medical opinion testimony of examining
psychologist Cheryl Brischetto. Pl.'s Br. 8-11. Finally,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly discounted portions
of the lay opinion testimony of social worker Heather
Germundson and employment support specialist Carolyn Frank.
Pl.'s Br. 11-15. The Court addresses each objection in
Subjective Symptom Testimony.
first argues that the ALJ failed to provide clear and
convincing reasons for discounting his symptom testimony.
Plaintiff testified that his mental impairments prevent him
from interacting with others, tr. 53, 234-40, give rise to
manic episodes during which he has “no control”
over his emotions, tr. 234-40, and result in periods of
depression characterized by lack of concentration,
motivation, and recall, tr. 49, 53, 234-40. He further
testified that the frequency and intensity of his manic
episodes and depressive periods are positively correlated
with increased work demands. Tr. 48. The ALJ accepted that
Plaintiff's impairments could “reasonably be
expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms, ” but
concluded that his statements “concerning the
intensity, persistence[, ] and limiting effects of these
symptoms” were not supported by the record. Tr. 17. In
particular, he reasoned that Plaintiff's activities of
daily living, medical records, and treatment history were
inconsistent with the alleged frequency and intensity of his
manic and depressive symptoms, as well as at odds with the
alleged intensity of his social anxiety. Tr. 18-19.
may only reject testimony regarding the severity of a
claimant's symptoms if she offers “clear and
convincing reasons” supported by “substantial
evidence in the record.” Thomas v. Barnhart,
278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002). The ALJ, however, 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) (citation omitted). In assessing
credibility, the ALJ “may consider a range of
factors.” Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 11554,
1163 (9th Cir. 2014). These factors include “ordinary
techniques of credibility evaluation, ” as well as a
plaintiff's daily activities, objective medical evidence,
treatment history, and inconsistencies in testimony.
Id. An ALJ may also consider the effectiveness of a
course of treatment and any failure to seek further
treatment. Crane v. Shalala, 76 F.3d 251, 254 (9th
Cir. 1996); Molina, 674 F.3d at 1113.
the ALJ offered clear and convincing reasons supported by
substantial evidence for rejecting Plaintiff's symptom
the ALJ rejected Plaintiff's claims of debilitating
mania, depression, and anxiety based on his activities of
daily living. Tr. 19-21. An ALJ may properly reject symptom
testimony if a plaintiff's daily activities contradict
that testimony or indicate skills and capabilities which are
transferable to a work setting. Ghanim, 763 F.3d
at1165 (citations omitted). The ALJ noted that
Plaintiff's “ongoing college activity, ”
20-hour-per-week “job as a sales associate” at
Office Depot, and ability to juggle school work, counseling
appointments, job applications, and job interviews was
“inconsistent with a disabling mental condition”
and indicative of transferable social skills. Tr. 19. He
reasoned that, contrary to Plaintiff's alleged inability
to interact with others, Plaintiff's work as a sales
associate required “some interaction with
customers.” Tr. 19. He also reasoned that
Plaintiff's ability to manage work and school commitments
totaling 35 hours per week was inconsistent with
Plaintiff's claim that full-time work would trigger or
exacerbate his manic-depressive episodes. Tr. 19; see
also tr. 20-21. The fact that Plaintiff consistently
received academic and vocational support, while ...