United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. MCSHANE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Erica L. brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner of Social Security’s
(“Commissioner”) decision denying her
applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II and supplemental security
income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”). For the reasons below,
the Commissioner’s final decision is AFFIRMED.
was 31 years old on her alleged onset date of September 29,
2010. Tr. 19, 76, 88.She completed high school and some college
coursework. Tr. 27, 44, 222. She alleged disability due to
autism spectrum disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and
generalized anxiety disorder. Tr. 221.
filed her DIB and SSI applications on August 13, 2014. Tr.
198, 202. Her claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Tr. 74–75. Plaintiff timely requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) and appeared for a hearing on October 14,
2016. Tr. 38–73, 150. In a written decision, the ALJ
denied Plaintiff’s applications on December 22, 2016.
Tr. 19–33. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s
subsequent request for review, rendering the ALJ’s
decision final. Tr. 1–6. This appeal followed.
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 that which detracts from
the ALJ’s conclusion. Davis v. Heckler, 868
F.2d 323, 326 (9th Cir. 1989).
Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step
sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4) (2012). The burden of proof rests upon the
claimant at steps one through four, and with the Commissioner
at step five. Id.; 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 must demonstrate 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 can
perform other work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, the claimant is not disabled. Id.;
see also Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953–54.
performed the sequential evaluation. At step one, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff met the insured requirements of the Act
and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
September 29, 2010, the alleged onset date. Tr. 22. At step
two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: asthma, autism spectrum disorder, general
anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and
posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).
Id. At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
equaled the requirements of the listings. Tr. 23; 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s RFC
allowed her to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels, but with the following nonexertional limitations:
[She] must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dust,
gases, and poorly ventilated areas. She [was] limited to
understanding and carrying out simple instructions. She [was]
limited to no contact with the general public and no more
than occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors. Tr.
25. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to
perform any of her past relevant work.
Tr. 31. At step five, the ALJ found that based on
Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC,
jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy
such that Plaintiff could sustain substantial gainful
employment despite her impairments. Tr. 31–32.
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform the
occupations of routing clerk, electronics worker, and
photocopying machine operator. Tr. 32. As a result, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning
of the Act. Tr. 32–33.
contends the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to provide clear and
convincing reasons to reject her subjective symptom
testimony; and (2) failing to properly weigh the lay opinion
Subjective Symptom Testimony
asserts the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing
reasons for discounting her subjective symptom testimony. An
ALJ may only reject testimony regarding the severity of a
claimant’s symptoms if she offers “clear and
convincing reasons” supported by “substantial
evidence in the record.” Thomas v. Barnhart,
278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002). The ALJ, however, is not
“required to believe every allegation of disabling
pain, or else disability benefits would be available for the
asking, a result plainly contrary to 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(5)(A).” Molina v. Astrue, 674
F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In
assessing credibility, the ALJ “may consider a range of
factors.” Ghanim, 763 F.3d at 1163. These
(1) whether the claimant engages in daily activities
inconsistent with the alleged symptoms; (2) whether the
claimant takes medication or undergoes other treatment for
the symptoms; (3) whether the claimant fails to follow,
without adequate explanation, a prescribed course of
treatment; and ...