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Gina C. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 15, 2019

Gina C., [1]Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael McShane United States District Judge

         On September 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for benefits, alleging disability as of January 28, 2003. At the hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) amended the alleged onset date to May 17, 2013. Tr. 23.[2] After the hearing, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr. 26. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in rejecting her subjective symptom testimony, in rejecting the treating medical source opinion of Dr. Huth, and in rejecting lay witness testimony. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Because the Commissioner's decision is based on proper legal standards and supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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. 1996)).

         DISCUSSION

         The 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).

         In a disability function report, Plaintiff alleged she was incapable of lifting more than five pounds. Tr. 220. Plaintiff wrote that she cannot walk or run “without wanting to pass out.” Tr. 221. Plaintiff wrote that she cannot walk more than five minutes without needing to rest. Tr. 273. Plaintiff stated she was able to watch television and use the computer “all day.” Tr. 224.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, nonischemic cardiomyopathy, Grave's disease, congestive heart failure, degenerative disc disease, and diabetes mellitus. Tr. 26. At step 4, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff:

has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except the claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb ramps and stairs. The claimant can never crawl and climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally reach overhead with the left upper extremity. The claimant can have no exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme vibrations, and hazards, such as machinery and unprotected heights.

Tr. 27.

         As noted, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in rejecting her subjective symptom testimony as to her limitations, in rejecting the treating medical source opinion of Dr. Huth, and in rejecting the lay witness testimony. I address each argument in turn.

         1. The ALJ's Adverse Credibility Determination

         The ALJ 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) (quoting Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 603 (9th Cir.1989)). Still, the ALJ must provide “specific, clear and convincing reasons” to discredit subjective symptoms testimony. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572, F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Smolen v. Charter, 80 F.3d 1273, 1282 (9th Cir. 1996)). In formulating these reasons, the ALJ “may consider a range of factors in assessing credibility.” Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1163 (9th Cir. Aug. 18, 2014). These factors can include “ordinary techniques of credibility evaluation, ” id., as well as:

(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 ...

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