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Joseph, R. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 3, 2020

Joseph, R., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL McSHANE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying his application for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         On January 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for benefits, alleging disability as of January 15, 2012. Tr. 268.[2] After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) determined Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Tr. 271. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in rejecting his subjective symptom testimony, in rejecting the examining medical source opinion of Dr. Burns, and in not discussing the treatment note of Dr. Laidler. 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).

         At a hearing, Plaintiff alleged his headaches were so severe they stop him in his tracks. Tr. 313. He stated these headaches sometimes last all day and occur three to five times a week. Tr. 318. In a disability report, Plaintiff wrote that his headaches force him to isolate himself from others. Tr. 566. He also reported that his headaches impaired his ability to take care of himself. Tr. 575.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: acoustic neuroma, a right internal auditory canal mass, headaches, degenerative disc disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Tr. 270. At step 4, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff:

has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), in that he can lift fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday; and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. He must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dust, gases, and all other pulmonary irritants. The claimant is limited to simple, routine tasks and jobs with a Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) classification of one or two and a General Educational Development (GED) level of two or less. He can have no contact with the public and only occasional contact with coworkers.

Tr 273.

         As noted, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in rejecting his subjective symptom testimony as to his limitations, in rejecting the examining medical source opinion of Dr. Burns, and in not discussing the treatment note of Dr. Laidler. 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 ...


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