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Broadnax v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

July 23, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security Operations, Defendant.


          David W. Christel, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Michael Broadnax filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 5.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the ALJ properly analyzed Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. As the ALJ's decision finding Plaintiff not disabled is supported by substantial evidence, the undersigned affirms the Commissioner's decision pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         On November 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI alleging disability as of June 15, 2016. See Dkt. 7, Administrative Record (“AR”) 160-68. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 67-78, 79, 92-95. A hearing was held before ALJ M.J. Adams on September 27, 2017. See AR 30-66. In a decision dated October 6, 2017, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 12-29. Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See AR 1-6; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintains the ALJ erred by improperly evaluating Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 14 at 1.


         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).


         I. Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony.

         Plaintiff testified he suffers from epileptic seizures, and the ALJ discredited his allegations of disabling symptoms. AR 21-22. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by failing to properly analyze Plaintiff's compliance with his medication regime and failing to properly consider the impact of the side effects of Plaintiff's medications on his ability to perform work functions. Dkt. 14 at 1.

         To reject a claimant's subjective complaints, the ALJ must provide “specific, cogent reasons for the disbelief.” Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). The ALJ “must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the claimant's complaints.” Id.; Dodrill v. Shalala, 12 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 1993). Unless affirmative evidence shows the claimant is malingering, the ALJ's reasons for rejecting the claimant's testimony must be “clear and convincing.” Lester, 81 F.2d at 834. Questions of credibility are solely within the control of the ALJ. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court should not “second-guess” this credibility determination. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 580 (9th Cir. 1984). In addition, the Court may not reverse a credibility determination where the determination is based on contradictory or ambiguous evidence. Id. at 579.

         At the hearing, Plaintiff testified he experiences seizures and has problems working due to difficulties with bending down, burning sensations in his legs, using his hands, holding things, walking, breathing, and sitting. AR 41-42, 44-46. Plaintiff testified he cannot carry more than ten pounds, walk for more than 15 to 20 minutes, stand for more than 15 minutes, or sit for more than 30 minutes. AR 45-46. Plaintiff testified he would be unable to work once or twice per week. AR 45-46, 52, Plaintiff testified he has approximately 18 seizures per month, and he would be unable to work for three days following a seizure. AR 47-49. Plaintiff testified his anti-seizure medication, Phenobarbital, makes him aggressive and drowsy. AR 51.

         The ALJ found Plaintiff's allegations were not fully supported because they are inconsistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. AR 21. Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) the “minimal and mild physical examination findings found throughout the record are inconsistent with the claimant's allegations of extremely limiting physical conditions[;]” (2) Plaintiff's “minimal engagement with treatment is inconsistent with the allegations of extremely limiting conditions and symptoms[;]” and (3) despite Plaintiff's “allegations he experiences side effects from his medications, including drowsiness, there is evidence in the record the claimant reported no fatigue during recent medical encounters.” AR 21-22. Plaintiff only contends the ALJ's second and third reasons were improper, arguing the ALJ failed to consider whether Plaintiff had valid ...

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