United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Angela B. seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) 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”).
(Docket No. 1). This Court has jurisdiction to review the
Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). All parties have consented to allow a Magistrate
Judge to enter final orders and judgment in accordance with
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and 28 U.S.C. §
636(c). See (Docket No. 9). For the reasons that
follow, the Commissioner's decisions is AFFIRMED and this
case is DISMISSED.
filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 18, 2013, alleging
an amended disability onset date of May 14, 2013. Tr. 15,
200-07; see also Tr. 60. Her applications were denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 104-05, 130-31.
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), and a hearing was held on July 26,
2016. Tr. 37-79, 152- 53. On August 19, 2016, an ALJ issued a
decision finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of
the Act. Tr. 15-26. The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review on August 18, 2017, making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. Tr. 1-8. This appeal followed.
1978, plaintiff was thirty-four years old on her amended
alleged onset date. Tr. 25, 80. She completed the tenth grade
and has past relevant work experience as a cashier/checker.
Tr. 25, 44, 222. She alleged disability based on degenerative
disk disease, back injury, arthritis of the back, and
migraine headaches. Tr. 48-50, 221. Plaintiff lives with her
significant other and two sons. Tr. 58, 242.
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. Hammock
v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotation omitted).
The court must weigh “both the evidence that supports
and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.”
Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir.
1986). “Where the evidence as a whole can support
either a grant or a denial, [the court] may not substitute
[its] judgment for the ALJ's.” Massachi v.
Astrue, 486 F.3d 1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation
omitted); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676,
680-81 (9th Cir. 2005) (holding that the court “must
uphold the ALJ's decision where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation”).
“[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as
a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v.
Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation
initial burden of proof rests on the claimant to establish
disability. Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1486
(9th Cir. 1986). To meet this burden, the claimant must
demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected . . . to
last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Commissioner has established a five-step process for
determining whether a person is disabled. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. First, the Commissioner
determines whether a claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”; if so, the
claimant is not disabled. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140;
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step two,
the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a
“medically severe impairment or combination of
impairments.” Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 140-41; 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). A severe
impairment is one “which significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities[.]” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) &
416.920(c). If not, the claimant is not disabled.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141. At step three, the
Commissioner determines whether the impairments meet or equal
“one of a number of listed impairments that the
[Commissioner] acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity.” Id.; 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is
conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the analysis
proceeds. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 141.
point, the Commissioner must evaluate medical and other
relevant evidence to determine the claimant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), an assessment of work-related activities
that the claimant may still perform on a regular and
continuing basis, despite any limitations his impairments
impose. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(b)-(c),
416.920(e), 416.945(b)-(c). At the fourth step, the
Commissioner determines whether the claimant can perform
“past relevant work.” Yuckert, 482 U.S.
at 141; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If
the claimant can work, he is not disabled; if he cannot
perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner. Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5. At step
five, the Commissioner must establish that the claimant can
perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy. Id. at 142; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e) & (f), 416.920(e) & (f). If the
Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966.
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured
requirements of the Act and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her amended alleged onset date. Tr.
17. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc
disease; headaches; chronic pain syndrome; and obesity.
Id. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did
not have an impairment or combination thereof that met or
equaled a listed impairment. Tr. 20. The ALJ found that
plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work, but with
several nonexertional limitations. Id. She could
frequently stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, climb stairs and
ramps; and work in moderate noisy environments. Id.
She could not climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; not work
in environments with extreme heat, cold, wetness, or
humidity; not be exposed to concentrated airborne irritants
and hazards; and not drive commercially. Id. At step
four, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform her past
relevant work as a cashier/checker. Tr. 25. In the
alternative, the ALJ made a step five finding that based on
the RFC and VE testimony, a significant number of jobs
existed such that plaintiff could sustain employment despite
her impairments. Id. Specifically, the ALJ found
plaintiff could perform the jobs of photocopy machine
operator, linen room attendant, and office helper. Tr. 26.
The ALJ thus found plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Id.
asserts the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to provide clear and
convincing reasons for rejecting her subjective symptom
testimony; and (2) improperly weighing the medical opinion
evidence. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
Subjective Symptom Testimony
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 ...