United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
MIcHAEL J. MCSHANE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision denying her application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §
January 14, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for
benefits, alleging disability as of January 1,
1995. Tr. 194-98. After a hearing, the
administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Social Security Act from January 1,
1995 through October 4, 2013. Tr. 21-22. Plaintiff appealed
and the District Court remanded the matter for further
proceedings. On remand, Plaintiff attended a second hearing
before the ALJ on November 10, 2016. The ALJ then issued
another opinion finding Plaintiff was not disabled under the
Act through January 5, 2017. Tr. 878.
argues the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinions
of an examining psychologist and a treating mental health
therapist. Because the Commissioner's decision is based
on proper legal standards and supported by substantial
evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
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 that which 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.
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 his
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 is capable of making 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 is able to 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).
found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform light work, but with the following relevant
non-exertional limitations: that she is limited to jobs that
involve simple, repetitive tasks, and she is limited to only
occasional public contact and can do no work as part of a
team. Tr. 870. In formulating Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
found Plaintiff was less-than fully credible as to the extent
of her limitations. Plaintiff does not challenge that
finding. Additionally, the ALJ gave little weight to the
opinions of examining psychologist Dr. Gary Sachs, Ph.D., and
Karen Van Acken, MA, MHQP, Plaintiff's mental health
therapist. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in discounting the
there exists conflicting medical evidence, the ALJ is charged
with determining credibility and resolving any conflicts.
Chaudhry v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 661, 671 (9th Cir.
2012). When a treating physician's opinion is
contradicted by another medical opinion, the ALJ may reject
the opinion of a treating physician only by providing
“specific and legitimate reasons supported by
substantial evidence in the record.” Orn v.
Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 632 (9th Cir. 2007). Generally, a
treating doctor's opinion is entitled to more weight than
an examining doctor's opinion, which in turn is entitled
to more weight than a reviewing doctor's opinion.
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012 (9th Cir.
Sachs examined Plaintiff on July 12, 2013. Tr. 844-851. Dr.
Sachs initially noted that he obtained information from
Plaintiff “without corroboration, and opinions formed
as a result of this consultation should be viewed in that
light.” Tr. 845. During the examination, Plaintiff
maintained good eye contact, but was tearful when recalling
childhood sexual abuse. Tr. 845. “She was able to
follow the examiner throughout the clinical interview.
Insight and judgment appeared somewhat limited. She
complained about ‘voices' in her head, but on
careful questioning, denied hearing disembodied
voices.” Tr. 845. Plaintiff complained of physical
symptoms in times of stress, including suffering from nausea
and regurgitation. Tr. 845. Plaintiff complained of blackouts
ever since a 2003 accident. Tr. 846. Plaintiff had an anxious
affect and her mood appeared dysthymic. She described
symptoms of PTSD. Tr. 845.
Sachs completed a mental medical source statement. Tr.
849-851. As relevant here, Dr. Sachs opined that Plaintiff
had slight limitations in understanding and carrying out
simple instructions and mild restrictions with the ability to
make judgments on simple work-related decisions. Tr. 849.
Plaintiff had moderate restrictions on interacting
appropriately with the public, supervisors, and co-workers.
Tr. 850. Plaintiff had marked restrictions (i.e., serious
limitations) in responding appropriately to usual work
situations and changes in a routine work setting. Tr. 850.
gave limited weight to Dr. Sachs's opinion. Tr. 875.
Specifically, the ALJ noted that while Dr. Sachs believed
Plaintiff had some marked limitations:
his assessment does not preclude simple, routine tasks, which
do not involve great stress or decision-making. Evidence does
not establish an inability to respond appropriately to usual
work situations and changes provided she is in a simple,
routine work environment. She has repeatedly worked when she
needs to. Treatment records reflect her symptoms have
improved when working because she likes feeling productive.
She describes being good at her summer pool attendant job,
indicating that she trains other people. The moderate
limitations in interacting [with] the public, coworkers and
supervisors have been considered. Evidence supports a finding
that the claimant is limited to occasional contact with the
public and should do no work as apart of a team. However, I
do not find evidence to support additional restrictions in
interactions with the public or coworkers or any limitations
in supervisor contact. The claimant describes, “I'm