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Zuma L.-B. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

August 6, 2019

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

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          YOULEE YIM YOU UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Zuma L.-B. (“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). The Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence; therefore, it should be AFFIRMED.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on July 6, 2015, alleging disability beginning October 5, 2005. Tr. 41. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on September 9, 2015, and upon reconsideration on November 17, 2015. Id. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 15, 2017, in which plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert (“VE”). Tr. 57-93. At the hearing, plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to October 1, 2009. Tr. 41, 60-61. On May 19, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 41-49. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's decision is therefore the Commissioner's final decision subject to review by this court. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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.

         SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS AND ALJ FINDINGS

         Disability 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, Tr. 42-43.

         At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. Tr. 43.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff has the severe impairment of a urinary tract disorder. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Tr. 44. The ALJ next assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined that he could perform a full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c). Id.

         At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work as a systems administrator. Tr. 47-48. By finding plaintiff was able to do his past relevant work, the ALJ determined plaintiff was not disabled; therefore, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 404.1520(f).

         FINDINGS

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by improperly discounting his subjective symptom testimony and erroneously assessing the medical opinion evidence of Dr. Lubahn, Dr. Niehus, and physician's assistant (PA) Jessica Vincent.

         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) (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 citation ...


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