United States District Court, E.D. Washington
SARA N. GRANADOS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
JOHN T. RODGERS, Magistrate Judge.
BEFORE THE COURT are cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 13, 18. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents Sara N. Granados (Plaintiff); Special Assistant United States Attorney Terrye E. Shea represents the Commissioner of Social Security (Defendant). The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 6. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.
Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on December 15, 2010, alleging disability since March 31, 2007, due to diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, macular edema and mental disorders. Tr. 291. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) R. J. Payne held a hearing on March 20, 2013, Tr. 48-97, and issued an unfavorable decision on April 4, 2013, Tr. 24-40. The Appeals Council denied review on May 23, 2014. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's April 2013 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, which is appealable to the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review on June 17, 2014. ECF No. 1.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing transcript, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of the parties. They are only briefly summarized here.
Plaintiff was born in El Salvador on January 25, 1960, and was 47 years old on the March 31, 2007, alleged onset date. Tr. 287. Plaintiff graduated from high school in the United States and last worked in June 2008. Tr. 75, 291-292. Plaintiff reported she stopped working when her documents were stolen, and she has not worked since that time. Tr. 291. As noted above, Plaintiff alleges disability due to diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, macular edema and mental disorders. Tr. 291. Plaintiff's function report indicates "mental disorder, medication and [poor] vision" limit her ability to work. Tr. 298. At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified she has emotional problems and is depressed. Tr. 76. She also described her main physical problem as right shoulder pain. Tr. 81, 90.
Alexander B. White, M.D., an internal medicine physician, testified as a medical expert at the administrative hearing. Tr. 52-60. He stated Plaintiff has type 2 diabetes and a history of back aches, problems with her left shoulder, a right clavicle fracture, and a left knee patella fracture. Tr. 53-56. He also noted the record reflected Plaintiff had macular edema and depression. Tr. 56.
Margaret Moore, Ph.D., also testified as a medical expert at the administrative hearing. Tr. 60-72. Dr. Moore indicated that in 2010 Plaintiff's perceived limitations and complaints were very minimal and then "we start to see a much more significant complaint and sometimes surprisingly so." Tr. 61. Dr. Moore stated the record was not clear as to why that happened, but noted "a number of indicators that there may well be some symptom exaggeration... and some less than ideal effort presented for these various evaluations." Tr. 61. Dr. Moore testified the record reflected Plaintiff was very organized, well prepared with her documents and working toward some reasonable goals in 2010, but then a change occurred and Plaintiff adopted "a disability mindset" with a stated goal of receiving SSI. Tr. 62.
Dr. Moore also discussed the psychotic features noted in the record. Tr. 62-63. Dr. Moore mentioned the possibility of cultural issues at play and opined that the record did not reflect psychosis. Tr. 63. She testified that Plaintiff had a "somewhat dependent personality style with some mixed depression and anxiety, and... some motivational issues." Tr. 64. Dr. Moore opined that Plaintiff, if motivated, would be able to maintain full-time work on a regular and continuous basis in a competitive work environment. Tr. 67.
Dr. Moore further commented about the potential effect of Plaintiff's language skills on her examination test scores in the record. Tr. 69-70. She indicated that while English is not Plaintiff's first language, the records dating back to 1996 reflect that Plaintiff finished school, has been in the United States for a long time, and has been able to negotiate the community. Tr. 69. It appears Dr. Moore found the reliability of Plaintiff's psychological examinations was not undermined by her English language abilities. Tr. 69-71.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court reviews the ALJ's determinations of law de novo, deferring to a reasonable interpretation of the statutes. McNatt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000). The decision of the ALJ may be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is defined as being more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Id. at 1098. Put another way, substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Morgan v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial evidence will still be set aside if the proper legal standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and making the decision. Brawner v. Secretary of ...