United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
JOSEPH A. S., Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MUSTAFA T. KASUBHAI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Joseph A. S. brings this action for judicial review of the
Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner's”) decision denying his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits under the
Social Security Act (the “Act”). This Court has
jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).
Both parties consent to jurisdiction by a U.S. Magistrate
reasons discussed below, the Court remands for the immediate
calculation and award of benefits.
protectively filed an application for Disability Insurance
Benefits on March 10, 2015, alleging disability beginning
March 7, 2015. Tr. 15. His claims were denied initially and
upon reconsideration, and Plaintiff timely requested and
appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) John D. Sullivan on December 9, 2015. Tr.
15. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application in a
written decision dated November 21, 2017. Tr. 15-27.
Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council. The Appeals
Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, rendering
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. Tr. 1-3. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of
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 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,
416.920. The initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant
to meet the first four steps. Id. If the claimant
satisfies his burden with respect to the first four steps,
the burden shifts to the commissioner at step five.
Id.; see also Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d
1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995).
one, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). At step two, the
Commissioner determines whether the claimant has one or more
severe impairments that are expected to result in death or
that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous
period of at least twelve months. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1509, 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.909, 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At
step three, the Commissioner determines whether any of those
impairments “meets or equals” one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (“Listings”). 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The Commissioner then
assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). Id. At step four, the
Commissioner determines whether claimant's FRC allows for
any past relevant work. Id. 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. 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 is able to perform other work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy, the
claimant is not disabled. Id.; see also
Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir.
present case, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date of March 7, 2015. Tr. 18. At step two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“Charcot-Marie-Tooth [(“CMT”)] disease;
status post left[-]hand injury, with loss of tips of left
second, third, and fourth fingers.” Id. At
step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled
the requirements of a listed impairment in the Listings.
to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the
RFC that allowed him to perform sedentary work “except
he could occasionally climb ramps/stairs; he should avoid
climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; he could
occasionally operate hand controls bilaterally; he could
occasionally handle and finger bilaterally; he could
occasionally operate a motor vehicle; and his time off task
could be accommodated by normal breaks.” Id.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform past
relevant work. Tr. 25. At step five, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff retained the ability to perform the representative
job of call out operator. Tr. 26-27. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 27.
seeks review by this Court contending that the ALJ erred in
(1) improperly discounting treating doctor Dr. Balm's
opinion, and (2) improperly rejecting Plaintiff's
subjective complaints. Pl.'s Br. 5, ECF No. 17.
Medical Opinion Evidence
is responsible for resolving conflicts in the medical record,
including conflicts among physicians' opinions.
Carmickle v. Comm'r., Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d
1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008). Specific and legitimate reasons
for rejecting a physician's opinion may include its
reliance on a claimant's discredited subjective
complaints, inconsistency with medical records, inconsistency
with a claimant's testimony, inconsistency with a
claimant's daily activities, or that the opinion is
brief, conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical
findings. Bray v. Commissioner, 554 F.3d 1219, 1228
(9th Cir. 2009); Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d
1035, 1040 (9th Cir. 2008); Andrews v. Shalala, 53
F.3d 1035, 1042-43 (9th Cir. 1995). An ALJ errs by rejecting
or assigning minimal weight to a medical opinion “while
doing nothing more than ignoring it, asserting without
explanation that another medical opinion is more persuasive,
or criticizing it with boilerplate language that fails ...