United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Yim You, United States Magistrate Judge
O. (“plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of the
final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's
application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). This court has jurisdiction to review
the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Because the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence, it is REVERSED and REMANDED for further
1953, plaintiff was 59 years old on the alleged onset date.
Tr. 90. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a secretary. Tr.
has been diagnosed with pathological gambling, major
depressive disorder, bulimia nervosa, hypothyroidism,
posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”),
adjustment disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder, anxiety
disorder, dysthymic disorder, and Stage III chronic kidney
disease. Tr. 353-54, 456, 465, 514, 556, 623, 632, 680.
was terminated from her most recent work as a secretary at
the Lane County School District after she admitted to
embezzling funds from the school. Tr. 180, 196. She was
ordered to pay restitution and sentenced to twenty-two months
in prison, of which she served sixteen. Tr. 196, 484. Prior
to her prison sentence, plaintiff began treatment for her
gambling addiction. Tr. 355-62.
suffers from PTSD and anxiety resulting from her older
brother sexually abusing her from age nine to sixteen. Tr.
351-52, 632. Her parents knew about the abuse, but never did
anything to stop it. Id. Plaintiff also was
physically abused by her first husband. He began abusing her
in 1974, and “[s]he suffered broken bones, [a]
fractured skull, and bruises until she divorced him in
1981.” Tr. 352.
filed an application for DIB on February 2, 2014, alleging
disability beginning February 11, 2013. Tr. 18.
Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on June 27, 2014,
and upon reconsideration on January 25, 2015. Id. A
hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on February 9, 2017, in which the
plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert
(“VE”). Tr. 39-79. On April 20, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Tr. 18-32. After the Appeals Council
denied her request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in
this court. Tr. 1-7. The ALJ's decision is therefore the
Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this
court. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210.
reviewing court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Lewis v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911
(9th Cir. 2007). This court must weigh the evidence that
supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusion and
“‘may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.'” Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009-10 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th
Cir. 2007)). The reviewing court may not substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner when the evidence can
reasonably support either affirming or reversing the
decision. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th
Cir. 2007). Instead, where the evidence is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's
decision must be upheld if it is “supported by
inferences reasonably drawn from the record.”
Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir.
2008) (citation omitted); see also
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035.
ANALYSIS AND ALJ FINDINGS
is the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ engages in a five-step sequential
inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled within
the meaning of the Act. This sequential analysis is set forth
in the Social Security regulations, 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920, in Ninth Circuit case law, Lounsburry
v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006)
(discussing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99
(9th Cir. 1999)), and in the ALJ's decision in this case,
one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity after February 11, 2013, the alleged onset
date. Tr. 20.
two, the ALJ found plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: anxiety disorder, PTSD, affective disorder,
gambling addiction, and an eating disorder. Tr. 21.
three, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a
listed impairment. Tr. 22. The ALJ next assessed
plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determined that she could perform a
full range of work at all exertional levels, except she was
limited to no more than frequent interaction with the general
public and she should have no close cooperative work with
coworkers. Tr. 24.
four, the ALJ found plaintiff was able to perform her past
relevant work as a secretary. Tr. 30.
the ALJ was not required to continue the sequential analysis,
he proceeded to step five and determined, in the alternative,
that plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy, including general
administrative clerk, data entry clerk, and billing typist.
argues that the ALJ erred by improperly discounting her
subjective symptom testimony, erroneously assessing the
medical opinions of Dr. Anderson and Zana Zeigler, improperly
rejecting the lay witness testimony of her cousins, and
erroneously evaluating her severe impairments.
Subjective Symptom Testimony
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) (citation omitted). A general assertion
that the claimant is not credible is insufficient; 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 ...