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Kenneth B. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 8, 2019

Kenneth B., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael J. McShane United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Kenneth B. brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         The issues before this Court are whether: (1) the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) gave clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's testimony; (2) the ALJ erred in rejecting Dr. Stephen Kerner, M.D.'s, medical opinion; and (3) the Commissioner met her burden of proving that Plaintiff can perform “other work” in the national economy.

         Because there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's findings, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on November 12, 2013, alleging disability since December 31, 2011. Tr. 155-61, 162-67, 51. Both claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 96, 101, 107, 110. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an ALJ and appeared before the Honorable Elizabeth Watson on August 8, 2016. Tr. 113, 31. ALJ Watson denied Plaintiff's claim by a written decision dated September 15, 2016. Tr. 10-18. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council and was denied on December 14, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision final. Tr. 1-6. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision.

         Plaintiff was 51 years 11 months old at the time of his alleged disability onset and 56 at the time of his hearing. See tr. 50, 31. Plaintiff completed tenth grade and worked as a dishwasher and prep cook. Tr. 40, 199, 216. Plaintiff alleges disability due to breathing problems, back pain, leg pain, and reading, writing, and learning difficulties. Tr. 37, 38, 50, 197.

         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. See 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, the court reviews 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) (citing Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986)). “‘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(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4) (2012). The burden of proof rests on the claimant for steps one through four, and on the Commissioner for step five. Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999)). At step five, the Commissioner's burden is to demonstrate that the claimant can make an adjustment to other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, then the claimant is considered disabled. Id.

         I. Plaintiff's Credibility

         An ALJ must consider a claimant's symptom testimony, including statements regarding pain and workplace limitations. See 20 CFR §§ 404.1529(a), 416.929(a). Where there is objective medical evidence in the record of an underlying impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or symptoms alleged and there is no affirmative evidence of malingering, the ALJ must provide clear and convincing reasons for discrediting the claimant's testimony regarding the severity of her symptoms. Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1160 (9th Cir. 2008); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007). The 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)).

         The ALJ “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 (4) whether the alleged symptoms are consistent with the medical evidence.

Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1040. “If the ALJ's credibility finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record, ” this Court “may not engage in second-guessing, ” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted), and “must uphold the ALJ's decision where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational ...


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