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Page v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

March 28, 2018




         Plaintiff Patrick John Page appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. He alleges that the ALJ improperly (1) failed to consider his eligibility for Listing 12.05C, (2) found his symptom testimony not credible, and (3) discounted the opinions of several medical providers. The ALJ did not find that Mr. Page's borderline IQ was a severe impairment at step two and therefore was not required to consider Listing 12.05C at step three. The ALJ gave specific reasons, supported by substantial evidence, for rejecting Page's symptom testimony and for his consideration of the medical opinions. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is therefore granted.


         Patrick Page filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on February 27, 2013, alleging disability beginning August 15, 2011. AR 205-30. His claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 149-52. Page requested a hearing on September 11, 2015, and a hearing was held on July 22, 2015. AR 170- 71, 48-89. Page amended the onset date of his claim to August 15, 2012, at the hearing. AR 13, 54. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 6, 2015. AR 10-37. The Appeals Council denied Page's request for review, AR 1-7, and he timely appealed to this Court. ECF No. 1.


         A “disability” is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The decision-maker uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         Step one assesses whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If he is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decision-maker proceeds to step two.

         Step two assesses whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant does, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step three compares the claimant's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404 Subpt. P App. 1, 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment does not, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

         Step four assesses whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past by examining the claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth step.

         Step five, the final step, assesses whether the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If the claimant can, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant cannot, the disability claim is granted.

         The burden of proof shifts during this sequential disability analysis. The claimant has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of entitlement to disability benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). The burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show 1) the claimant can perform other substantial gainful activity, and 2) that a “significant number of jobs exist in the national economy, ” which the claimant can perform. Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th Cir. 1984). A claimant is disabled only if his impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).


         At step one, the ALJ found that Page had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 15, 2012. AR 15. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Page had the following medically determinable severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, pain disorder, depression and anxiety. Id. The ALJ noted that Page had complaints of abdominal pain, COPD, and carpal tunnel syndrome, but found that none of these conditions were severe impairments. AR 16. The ALJ also noted that Page had borderline intellectual functioning as indicated by his performance on intellectual testing (borderline range FSIQ of 73 and Verbal Comprehension of 72, AR 529-32). However, the ALJ noted that, based on the record as a whole-including, most notably, Page's history of several years performing semi-skilled work-Page's performance on the FSIQ test “is not determinative of his functional capacity, and that he has no worse than moderate limitations in that regard.” AR 16.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Page did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. AR 17-18. At step four, the ALJ found that Page had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of light work with some additional limitations. AR 18-28. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ found that Page's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, but he found that some of Page's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects were not entirely credible. AR 19-20. In determining Page's physical capacity, the ALJ gave significant weight to state agency medical consultant, Dr. Alexander. AR 25. The ALJ gave minimal weight to the opinion of DSHS consultative examining physician, Dr. Shanks. AR 25-26. In determining Page's mental functionality, the ALJ gave little weight to DSHS consultative examining psychologist, Dr. Brown. The ALJ gave minimal weight to the opinions of Page's girlfriend. The ALJ did not consider opinions issued before the relevant period. AR 26-28.

         At step five, the ALJ found that Page is unable to perform any past relevant work and that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. AR 28-29.


         The Court must uphold an ALJ's determination that a claimant is not disabled if the ALJ applied the proper legal standards and there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Stone v. Heckler, 761 F.2d 530, 531 (9th Cir.1985)). “Substantial evidence ‘means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Id. at 1110 (quoting Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009)). This must be more than a mere scintilla, but may be less than a preponderance. Id. at 1110-11 (citation omitted). Even where the evidence supports more than ...

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