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Cammie W. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 22, 2019

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

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael McShane United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Cammie W. seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her application for supplemental security income (SSI) and Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Because the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on April 5, 2013, tr. 314[2], for DIB on June 21, 2013, tr. 349, alleging disability as of May 7, 2008, id. Following a denial of benefits, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). After a hearing, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled from May 7, 2008 through July 15, 2016. Tr. 79-80. The Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-4. This appeal followed.

         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 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 her 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 can make 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 can 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).

         At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not engaged in substantially gainful activity. Tr. 73. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments of schizophrenia paranoid type, depressive disorder not otherwise specified, and a history of alcohol abuse in remission. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the criteria of a listing. Tr. 74-75.

         Before step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and determined Plaintiff could perform a full range of work with no exertional limitations. Tr. 75. However, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff's work should be limited to simple routine, slow-paced, and undetailed tasks with only occasional and indirect contact with coworkers and the public but no public interaction as a job duty. Tr. 75-76. The ALJ also limited Plaintiff to low stress work, with few changes to routine or work setting. Tr. 76. At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff could not perform past relevant work. Tr. 78. At step five, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform the jobs of laundry worker, linen room attendant, and folder, all jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 79. The ALJ concluded plaintiff was not disabled. Id.

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in three ways. First, the ALJ failed to provide specific, clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence in discounting Plaintiff's subjective limitations. Second, when formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ erred by failing to consider the opinions of three “other sources.” Finally, the ALJ had a duty to further develop the record. I address each of Plaintiff's arguments in turn.

         I. The ALJ provided specific, clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record for finding Plaintiff less-than fully credible.

         The ALJ did not err in discounting the Plaintiff's statements as to the severity of her symptoms. Tr. 76-78. An ALJ must follow a two-step process to evaluate Plaintiff's symptoms. See SSR 16-3p. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. Tr. 76. At step two, the ALJ pointed to specific, clear and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record to discount Plaintiff's statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms.

         “Contradiction with the medical record is a sufficient basis for rejecting the claimant's subjective testimony.” Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1161 (9th Cir. 2008). Here, the ALJ pointed to multiple such inconsistencies. For instance, the ALJ noted that at the hearing Plaintiff reported her declining attention span was a main barrier preventing employment Tr. 76. Plaintiff testified that she was unable to work 40 hours per week, even in a simple and routine job with no public interaction “[b]ecause my attention span has greatly declined. . .. my attention span is gone.” Tr. 151. The ALJ, however, specifically noted Plaintiff's attention and concentration had, outside of two discrete time periods, generally improved. Tr. 77 (citing to tr. 825, 827, 829). The ALJ also noted Plaintiff's symptoms stabilized when she used her medications consistently. Tr. 77. Finally, the ALJ considered an October 2012 evaluation by Barbara Stoner, M.S. in anticipation of Plaintiff attending community college. Tr. 1242. ...


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