United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER AND DISMISSING THE
A. TSUCHIDA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lynne Larned applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and
received a partially favorable decision awarding benefits for
a closed period. She seeks review of the finding that her
disability ended on September 1, 2015, and that she was no
longer eligible for benefits as of that date. Ms. Larned
contends the ALJ erred in making an adverse credibility
finding for the period after September 1, 2015. Dkt. 8.
Finding that the ALJ's adverse credibility finding is
supported by substantial evidence and free of harmful legal
error, the Court AFFIRMS the
Commissioner's final decision and
DISMISSES the case with prejudice.
Larned is currently 53 years old, has a high school
education, and has worked as a department manager and sales
clerk. Tr. 71, 159, 186. In April 2014, she applied for
benefits, alleging disability as of January 13, 2014. Tr.
159. After her application was denied initially and on
reconsideration, the ALJ conducted a hearing and, on March
25, 2016, issued a decision finding Ms. Larned disabled for
the closed period from her alleged onset date of January 14,
2014, through August 31, 2015, but not disabled thereafter.
Tr. 21-41. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Larned's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1.
the five-step disability evaluation process,  the ALJ found
that Ms. Larned was disabled from her alleged onset date of
January 13, 2014, through August 31, 2015, because her
impairments met the listing criteria for somatoform
disorders. Tr. 24-30. Applying the framework for evaluating
medical improvement,  the ALJ found that medical improvement
occurred and Ms. Larned's disability ended on September
1, 2015. Tr. 30-40. In so finding, the ALJ found that, while
Ms. Larned's medically determinable impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause some of the symptoms she
alleged, her statements about the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of these symptoms were not entirely credible
for the period beginning September 1, 2015. Tr. 33-39.
Larned argues that the ALJ erred in assessing her credibility
for the period beginning September 1, 2015. Dkt. 8 at 2.
Where, as here, the ALJ does not find that the claimant was
malingering, the ALJ must provide clear and convincing
reasons to reject her testimony. See Vertigan v.
Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 2001). An ALJ does
this by making specific findings supported by substantial
evidence. “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 gave several reasons for finding Ms. Larned's
statements about her symptoms not fully credible for the
period beginning September 1, 2015. Ms. Larned challenges each
Objective medical evidence
found that the objective medical evidence was not consistent
with a finding of ongoing disability after September 1, 2015.
Tr. 34-36. The lack of supporting objective medical evidence
cannot be the sole reason an ALJ discounts subjective
complaints. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 681
(9th Cir. 2005). Ms. Larned faults the ALJ's reliance on
the objective evidence on this basis alone. Dkt. 8 at 3. The
Court agrees that if all the ALJ's other reasons for
discounting Ms. Larned's statements are invalid, this
reason alone cannot support the adverse credibility
determination. However, the Court has reviewed the merits of
this reason and finds it valid. The Court therefore finds it
a valid reason to discount Ms. Larned's statements, so
long as the ALJ gave other valid reason to support the
adverse credibility determination.
Ms. Larned's statements of improvement to medical
found that Ms. Larned's own reports of symptoms to her
medical providers were consistent with significant
improvement. Tr. 39. The ALJ noted her reports in November
2015 that medication significantly helped her left facial
pain; that while she still had pain daily, it did not occur
24 hours a day, seven days a week; and that she rated her
pain as only a 2/10. Id. Ms. Larned argues that the
ALJ's reliance on these statements is not clear and
convincing because, while the statements demonstrate
improvement, Ms. Larned did not admit complete alleviation of
her symptoms. Dkt. 8 at 4. Ms. Larned compares these
statements to her hearing testimony that she still
experienced episodes of overwhelming pain and was able to
engage in only two hours of activity per day. Id.
She characterizes her contemporaneous reports to her
providers as supporting, rather than undermining, this
is entitled to draw reasonable inferences logically flowing
from the record. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d
1035, 1040 (9th Cir. 2008). So long as the inferences the ALJ
draws from the evidence are reasonable, this Court may not
disturb them. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954
(9th Cir. 2002). Here, the ALJ reasonably inferred that Ms.
Larned's statements describing improvement demonstrated
just that-improvement. The ALJ did not interpret them as
evidence of complete alleviation of her symptoms. Even if Ms.
Larned's proposed interpretation is reasonable, the Court
cannot accept it over the ALJ's valid interpretation.
Larned argues that the ALJ's reliance on her report that
her pain was a 2/10 was invalid because at the same visit,
she also reported episodes of pain that were so overwhelming
she could not speak. Dkt 10 at 2. Treating neurologist Oanh
Nguyen, D.O., noted Ms. Larned's report at her November
2015 visit that “speech is difficult at times due to
pain.” Tr. 1254. The ALJ acknowledged Ms. Larned's
reports at that visit that her pain was still present but was
no longer constant. Tr. 36. The ALJ's ...