United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER RE: SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY APPEAL
Alice Theiler, United States Magistrate Judge
Robin Denise Monta proceeds through counsel in her appeal of
a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (Commissioner). The Commissioner denied
plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) after a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Having considered
the ALJ's decision, the administrative record (AR), and
all memoranda, this matter is AFFIRMED.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was born on XXXX, 1961. She completed the tenth grade and
previously worked as a janitor/custodian. (AR 44-45, 269.)
filed SSI and DIB applications in April 2013, alleging
disability beginning October 10, 2011. (AR 242-54.) Her
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.
9, 2015, ALJ Cynthia Rosa held a hearing, taking testimony
from plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE). (AR 35-65.)
Plaintiff amended her onset date to April 1, 2013. (AR 41.)
On September 25, 2015, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled.
timely appealed. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review on December 2, 2016 (AR 1-15), making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff appealed this final decision of the Commissioner to
Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process for determining whether a claimant is disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2000).
At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is
gainfully employed. The ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity. At step two, it must be
determined whether a claimant suffers from a severe
impairment. The ALJ found plaintiff's degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine with stenosis, cervicalgia, and
major depressive disorder severe. Step three asks whether a
claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment.
The ALJ found plaintiff's impairments did not meet or
equal a listed impairment.
claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing,
the Commissioner must assess residual functional capacity
(RFC) and determine at step four whether the claimant has
demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The
ALJ found plaintiff able to perform light work within the
following parameters: lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten
pounds frequently; stand, walk, and sit for six hours in an
eight-hour workday; occasionally climb ramps and stairs;
never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally
balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel; perform routine
work with few changes over time; avoid concentrated exposure
to vibrations and hazards; and alternate sitting and
standing, while remaining on task, every thirty minutes. With
that assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff unable to perform
her past relevant work.
claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant
work, or has no past relevant work, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to demonstrate at step five that the claimant
retains the capacity to make an adjustment to work that
exists in significant levels in the national economy. With
the assistance of the VE, the ALJ found plaintiff capable of
performing other jobs, such as work as a package sorter and
Court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited to
whether the decision is in accordance with the law and the
findings supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th
Cir. 1993). Accord Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170,
1172 (9th Cir. 2015) (“We will set aside a denial of
benefits only if the denial is unsupported by substantial
evidence in the administrative record or is based on legal
error.”) Substantial evidence means more than a
scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If there is
more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports
the ALJ's decision, the Court must uphold that decision.
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
avers error in the consideration of medical opinions, lay
witness evidence, her testimony, and at step five. She
requests remand for an award of benefits or, in the
alternative, for further administrative proceedings. The
Commissioner argues the ALJ's decision has the support of
substantial evidence and should be affirmed.
evidence of malingering, an ALJ must provide specific, clear,
and convincing reasons to reject a claimant's
testimony. Burrell v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 1133,
1136-37 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Molina v. Astrue,
674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012)). See also
Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir.
2007). “General findings are insufficient; rather, the
ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what
evidence undermines the claimant's complaints.”
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1996).
The ALJ may consider a claimant's “reputation for
truthfulness, inconsistencies either in his testimony or
between his testimony and his conduct, his daily activities,
his work record, and testimony from physicians and third
parties concerning the nature, severity, and effect of the
symptoms of which he complains.” Light v. Social
Sec. Admin., 119 F.3d 789, 792 (9th Cir. 1997).
in this case found plaintiff's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms
not entirely credible. The Court finds several specific,
clear, and convincing reasons provided in support of that
subjective pain testimony cannot be rejected on the sole
ground that it is not fully corroborated by objective medical
evidence, the medical evidence is still a relevant factor in
determining the severity of the claimant's pain and its
disabling effects.” Rollins v. Massanari, 261
F.3d 853, 857 (9th Cir. 2001); Social Security Ruling (SSR)
96-7p and 16-3p. An ALJ may reject a claimant's
subjective testimony based on contradictory medical evidence.
Carmickle v. Comm'r of SSA, 533 F.3d 1155, 1161
(9th Cir. 2008).
is responsible for assessing the medical evidence and
resolving any conflicts or ambiguities in the record. See
Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d
1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014); Carmickle, 533 F.3d at
1164. When evidence reasonably supports either confirming or
reversing the ALJ's decision, the Court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). “Where
the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that must be
upheld.” Morgan v. Commissioner of the SSA,
169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999).
reasonably construed the objective evidence in the record as
indicating plaintiff is not as limited as she alleged. (AR
17-19.) For example, in July 2013, Dr. Gary Gaffield found
restricted motion of the lumbar spine with crepitus,
restricted cervical motion with dorsal spams, a positive
straight leg-raising test on the right, but no spasms or
triggers points or pain on percussion on the thoracic spine,
upper extremities free of deformities, intact grip and
dexterity, and full lower extremity range of motion. He
observed plaintiff rise from chairs and get on and off a
table without effort, not struggle to remove footwear, walk
on her heels and the balls of her feet, walk in tandem
without difficulty, negative straight leg raising when
sitting, full muscle strength/bulk/tone in the upper and
lower extremities, and unimpaired balance. The ALJ also
described, inter alia, plaintiff's July 2013
report to Dr. Jennifer Irwin of depression, no energy or
motivation, paranoid ideation and auditory hallucinations,
but also that she had smoked marijuana the day prior and
drank about a fifth of whiskey over two days. Plaintiff was
polite and cooperative with good eye contact, logical and
goal directed thoughts, normal speech, and fully oriented,
recalled seven digits forward and three backwards, and three
of three objects after five-minutes, had intact fund of
knowledge, and followed a three-step command.
challenges the reliance on the evidence from Dr. Gaffield,
stating he had limited information to go on and observed
limited ranges of motion. (See AR 491.) However, the
ALJ acknowledged the restricted range of motion and
reasonably interpreted Dr. Gaffield's other findings as
objective medical evidence contradictory to plaintiff's
testimony as to the extent of her limitations. Even if a
contrary interpretation of the ...