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Crystal B. v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

December 30, 2019

CRYSTAL B., [1]Plaintiff,


          Youlee Yim You United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Crystal B. seeks judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(g)(3). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on January 14, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 1997. Tr. 13, 188-202. Her date last insured is December 31, 2010. Tr. 15. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim on May 15, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on June 18, 2015. Tr. 13. Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on July 7, 2015. Tr. 138. On April 12, 2017, plaintiff appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mark Triplett. Tr. 13. At the hearing, plaintiff amended her alleged disability onset date to January 31, 2009. Id. After receiving testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert, Vernon G. Arne, the ALJ issued a decision on June 13, 2017, finding plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 13-24. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November 24, 2018, making the ALJ's written decision the Commissioner's final decision and subject to judicial review by this court. Tr. 1-3; 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 422.210.


         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)). This 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.


         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. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006) (discussing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         At step one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged onset date of January 31, 2009. Tr. 15. At step two, the ALJ determined plaintiff suffered from the following severe medical impairments: major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe with psychotic features; posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); and borderline intellectual functioning. 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. 16. The ALJ next assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined she could perform the full range of heavy or very heavy work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567, but was limited to “simple, routine tasks with a reasoning level of 1 or 2” and “occasional contact with the general public and with coworkers.” Tr. 18.

         At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a vault cashier. Tr. 22-23.

         At step five, the ALJ found that considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, she could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, including laundry laborer, hand packager, and vehicle cleaner. Tr. 23-24. Thus, the ALJ concluded plaintiff was not disabled at any time from January 31, 2009, the alleged onset date, through June 13, 2017, the date of the ALJ's decision. Tr. 24.


         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erroneously rejected her subjective symptom testimony, the medical opinion evidence, and the lay witness testimony of her husband and sister.

         I. Subjective Symptom Testimony

         A. Function Report

         Plaintiff completed a function report on February 6, 2015. Tr. 249-56. She reported that she did not want to leave her house due to social anxiety, paranoia, and nervousness. Tr. 249. She would “hear things, ” and “always” saw “stuff from the corner of [her] eyes” that was not there. Id. She had nightmares about a prior abusive relationship, and could not stop thinking about why she had stayed with the abuser and did not call the police. Tr. 250.

         Plaintiff cared for three of her children. Tr. 250. Because her boyfriend worked, she cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. Tr. 250-51. She reported spending about 15 minutes a day on each chore. Tr. 251. Plaintiff prepared “easy stuff” for her children during the day and would “try [to cook] a nice dinner.” Id. However, it took her “all day” to prepare meals because she did not know what to make and depended on internet recipes. Id.

         Plaintiff was able to drive, but reported she could not go out alone because she needed “someone there for backup.” Tr. 252. However, she was capable of driving alone if necessary. Tr. 256. Plaintiff went shopping twice a month for an hour at a time. Tr. 252.

         Plaintiff played games with her children, Tr. 250, but felt like a “crapy [sic] mom” because, although she made sure her children ate and showered, she never took them anywhere. Tr. 253. For hobbies, plaintiff said, “We color, play puzzles, game, sewing.” Tr. 253. In response to the question, “How often and how well do you do these things?, ” plaintiff responded, “All the time and pretty good.” Id. She stated that she used to be an outside person, who swam, bar-b-qued, and did “outside family thing[s], ” but “now I like to do all indoor stuff.” Id. She did not like to be out of the house very long because she did not want anyone to start talking with her or seeing what she was doing. Tr. 252.

         Regarding personal care, plaintiff lacked the energy to shower some days. Tr. 251. She did not usually fix her hair, and sometimes ...

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