Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Joyce S. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

June 6, 2019

JOYCE S.[1], Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Joyce S. brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner's”) decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). For reasons discussed below, the Court should reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand this case for the immediate calculation and award of benefits.


         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 25, 2013, alleging disability beginning July 24, 2013. Tr. 210-16. Her claims were denied initially, and Plaintiff timely requested and appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) John Michaelsen on December 3, 2015. Tr. 160-64, 169-74, 99-135. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application in a written decision dated February 16, 2016. Tr. 70-92. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which was denied, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the decision.


         A 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, a court reviews 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).


         The Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to meet the first four steps. Id. If the claimant satisfies her burden with respect to the first four steps, the burden shifts to the commissioner at step five. Id.; see also Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995). 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. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) & 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the Commissioner fails to meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled. Id. 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. Id.; see also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001).

         In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of July 24, 2013. Tr. 75. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: aortic stenosis with a history of atrial fibrillation, obesity, affective disorder, and anxiety-related disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the requirements of a listed impairment in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 18.

         Prior to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained residual functional capacity (“RFC”) that allowed her to perform light work except with the following limitations:

The claimant could not frequently balance and occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, kneel, or climb ramps or stairs. She could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant would need to avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes as well as any exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, or similar hazards. The claimant could perform simple, repetitive, routine tasks.

Tr. 78.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 86. At step five, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform based on her age, education, work experience, and RFC, such as Electronics Worker, Small-Products Assembler, and Information Router. Tr. 86-7.

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by failing to identify legally sufficient bases supported by substantial evidence in the record to: (1) discredit Plaintiff's subjective statement; (2) reject the examining medical source opinion of psychologist Judith Eckstein, Ph.D., and the treating medical source opinion of Elaine Callahan, M.D.; and (3) reject the competent lay witness statement of Plaintiff's sister, Juanita Pate-Smith.

         I. Subjective Symptom Testimony

         When a claimant has medically documented impairments that could reasonably be expected to produce some degree of the symptoms complained of, and the record contains no affirmative evidence of malingering, “the ALJ can reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of . . . symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal citation omitted). A general assertion the claimant is not credible is insufficient; instead, the ALJ must “state which . . . testimony is not credible and what evidence suggests the complaints are not credible.” Dodrill v. Shalala, 12 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 1993). The reasons proffered must be “sufficiently specific to permit the reviewing court to conclude that the ALJ did not arbitrarily discredit the claimant's testimony.” Orteza v. Shalala, 50 F.3d 748, 750 (9th Cir. 1995) (internal citation omitted). If the ALJ's finding regarding the claimant's subjective symptom testimony is “supported by substantial evidence in the record, [the court] may not engage in second-guessing.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002) (internal citation omitted).

         Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 16-3p[2] provides that “subjective symptom evaluation is not an examination of an individual's character, ” and requires the ALJ to consider all of the evidence in an individual's record when evaluating the intensity and persistence of symptoms. SSR 16-3p, available at 2016 WL 1119029 at *1-2. The ALJ must examine “the entire case record, including the objective medical evidence; an individual's statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of symptoms; statements and other information provided by medical sources and other persons; and any other relevant evidence in the individual's case record.” Id. at *4.

         A. Non-Compliance of Treatment

         “[I]f the medical reports or records show that the [claimant] is not following the treatment as prescribed and there are no good reasons for this failure, ” the [claimant]'s statements may be less credible. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1113 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing SSR 96-7p). “Moreover, a claimant's failure to assert a good reason for not seeking treatment, ‘or a finding by the ALJ that the proffered reason is not believable, can cast doubt on the sincerity of the claimant's pain testimony.'” Id. (citing Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir. 1989)). Where reasons for non-compliance are provided but no medical evidence supports that the claimant's non-compliance was “attributable to her mental impairment rather than her own personal preference, ” it is reasonable for the ALJ to conclude that the level or frequency of treatment was inconsistent with the level of complaints. Id. at 1114.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff's “history of non-compliance” among other factors undermined the credibility of her statements. Tr. 83. In November 2013 and January 2014, Plaintiff reported that she was not taking medication for her heart condition as prescribed because “she wakes up late.” Tr. 462, 464. In July 2014, Plaintiff had not presented for an International Normalized Ratio (“INR”)[3] in three months, even though Plaintiff was supposed to check her INR on a monthly basis. Tr. 684, 687. Plaintiff repeatedly failed to follow dietary recommendations to manage her weight and diabetes. Tr. 462 (“She has gained 30 pounds of weight since her last visit due to dietary noncompliance. She has a history of diet-controlled diabetes but has not been following her sugars.” (January 2, 2014)); Tr. 544 (“Diabetes. Not controlled, but patient not following any diet. … When she has kept to a strict diet, she has not needed medication for glycemic control.” (January 6, 2014)); Tr. 681 (“She does not check her sugars.” (October 22, 2014)); Tr. 684 (“She reports rarely checking her blood glucose, she reports trying to keep to a restricted caloric and carbohydrate diet, [sic] but likes her dessert at nighttime and usually takes 2 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.