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Richard F. v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

December 31, 2019

RICHARD F., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT'S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS

          DAVID W. CHRISTEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“Commissioner”) denial of Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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. 2.

         After considering the record, the Court concludes the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly analyzed Plaintiff's credibility and the lay opinion 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).

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of September 14, 2015. See Dkt. 16, Administrative Record (“AR”) 15. The application was denied upon initial administrative review and on reconsideration. See AR 15. A hearing was held before ALJ Gerald J. Hill on May 11, 2018. See AR 15. In a decision dated July 17, 2018, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to be not disabled. See AR 21. 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; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981, § 416.1481.

         In the Opening Brief, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider: (1) Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; and (2) Plaintiff's spouse's lay witness testimony. Dkt. 13, pp. 3-12. Plaintiff requests remand for an award of benefits. Id. at p. 11.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the ALJ provided specific, clear, and convincing reasons for finding Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony not fully supported.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by failing to provide specific, clear, and convincing reasons for finding Plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony not fully supported. Dkt. 13.

         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 that determination is based on contradictory or ambiguous evidence. Id. at 579.[1] Plaintiff has a history of pancreatitis, dating back to as early as 2003. See AR 231. Plaintiff reported that he experiences severe abdominal pain and occasionally severe headaches. AR 32-33, 42. Plaintiff says he deals with his pain most of the time by sleeping. AR 34, 42. Plaintiff testified he can drive short distances but cannot walk more than a couple of blocks. AR 35, 37. Plaintiff said he can go to the grocery store alone, but has trouble doing chores around the house such as laundry or doing the dishes. AR 35. Plaintiff reported that he can stand for 10 to 15 minutes but cannot lift garbage or laundry. AR 37. Plaintiff spends his time reading, watching television, and spending time with his two pet cats. AR 35.

         Plaintiff has tried several medications in attempt to ameliorate his pain but consistently reports that none provide any significant relief. See AR 246, 249, 266, 299, 326, 351. He consistently reports he does not like opiates because of how they make him feel. AR 243, 249, 270. Plaintiff testified that enzyme therapy was helpful in treating his nausea and diarrhea but not in treating his pain. AR 39, 297, 347.

         After outlining the medical evidence contained in the record, the ALJ found Plaintiff's “medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely ...


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