United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael J. McShane United States District Judge
Robert M. brings this action for judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
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).
issues before this Court are whether the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) erred in rejecting: (1) Dr. Scott
Alvord's, PsyD, medical opinion; (2) Felice
Nirenstein-Rich's, M.S., Q.M.H.P., “other”
medical source statement; and (3) Plaintiff's subjective
symptom testimony. Because there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the ALJ's findings and errors, if
any, were harmless, the Commissioner's decision is
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
applied for SSI on December 27, 2013, alleging disability
since August 1, 2005. Tr. 167-72. His claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 106-09, 117-22.
Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an ALJ and
appeared before the Honorable Mark Triplett on December 12,
2016. Tr. 120-22, 39-76. ALJ Triplett denied Plaintiff's
claim by a written decision dated February 15, 2017. Tr.
15-38. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council and
was denied on January 29, 2018 rendering the ALJ's
decision final. Tr. 162-64, 1- 6. Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of the ALJ's decision.
was 42 years old at the time of his alleged disability onset
and 45 at the time of his hearing. See tr. 167.
Plaintiff has a GED and worked as a pizza delivery driver,
tow truck driver, wrecking yard dismantler/salvager, delivery
driver, and gas station/fuel attendant. Tr. 31, 48, 51, 203,
601. Plaintiff alleges disability due to shoulder, knee,
heart, and kidney problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (“ADHD”), post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), depression, and bipolar disorder. Tr.
44-46, 98, 167-72, 201.
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.
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
(“RFC”), 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
Dr. Alvord's Medical Opinion
State of Oregon Disability Determination Services referred
Plaintiff to Dr. Scott Alvord, PsyD, to address his ADHD,
PTSD, depression, and bipolar disorder and the impact of
related symptoms on his employability. Tr. 600. The ALJ gave
significant weight to Dr. Alvord's opinion that Plaintiff
could understand and follow simple instructions but was
markedly limited with more complex tasks. Tr. 29. The ALJ
gave little weight to Dr. Alvord's opinion that Plaintiff
had many marked limitations regarding social functioning.
reject an uncontradicted opinion of a treating or examining
doctor, an ALJ must state clear and convincing reasons that
are supported by substantial evidence.” Bayliss v.
Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation
omitted). “If a treating or examining doctor's
opinion is contradicted by another doctor's opinion, an
ALJ may only reject it by providing specific and legitimate
reasons that are supported by substantial evidence.”
Id. When evaluating conflicting medical opinions, an
ALJ need not accept a brief, conclusory, or inadequately
supported opinion. Id.
Dr. Alvord opined that Plaintiff was markedly restricted in
his ability to interact appropriately with the public,
supervisors, and coworkers and respond appropriately to work
situations and changes in a routine work setting. Tr. 606.
Dr. Alvord's opinion is contradicted by that of state
agency psychological consultants Alvin Smith, Ph.D., and
Dorothy Anderson, Ph.D. See tr. 103, 88 (opining
that Plaintiff was capable of occasional indirect interaction
with the public and coworkers and could frequently work
independently). Therefore, the ALJ needed only provide
specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial
evidence to properly reject Dr. Kerner's opinion. See
Bayliss, 427 F.3d at 1216 (citation omitted). The ALJ
did so here.
must weigh the following factors when considering medical
opinions: (1) whether the source has an examining
relationship with claimant; (2) whether the source has a
treatment relationship with claimant; (3) supportability (as
shown by relevant evidence and explanation); (4) consistency
with the record as a whole; (5) specialization; and (6) other
factors, including ...