United States District Court, D. Idaho
CHERYL D. OVERSTREET, Petitioner,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER INTRODUCTION
CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.
Currently pending before the Court for consideration is Petitioner Cheryl Overstreet's ("Petitioner") Petition for Review (Dkt. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed July 24, 2013. The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record ("AR"), and for the reasons that follow, will affirm the Commissioner's decision.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY
Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on March 11, 2010, claiming disability beginning December 4, 2004, caused by fibromyalgia. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration. A hearing was conducted on November 1, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John Molleur. At the hearing, Petitioner was represented by counsel, and the ALJ heard testimony from Petitioner, and from vocational expert Polly Peterson. ALJ Molleur issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on December 7, 2011. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on June 28, 2013.
Petitioner appealed this final decision to the Court. The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). At the time of the November 1, 2011 hearing, Petitioner was forty-seven years of age. Petitioner graduated from high school and attended some college. She has past work experience as a receptionist, accounts payable clerk, medical clerk, food service supervisor, and human resources clerk.
The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is engaged in substantially gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date, which was amended to January 2, 2009. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea, and asthma severe within the meaning of the Regulations.
Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for any listed impairments, specifically considering Listings 3.03 (asthma), 3.10 (sleep-related breathing disorder, evaluated under 3.09 and 12.02), and 14.02 (systemic lupus erythematosus). If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and determine, at step four, whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work.
The ALJ found Petitioner retained the RFC to perform sedentary work with limitations that prohibited her from climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds; and prohibited her from exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, dust, fumes, gases, poor ventilation, noxious odors or other lung irritants. She could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and engage in other postural activities frequently. With this RFC, the ALJ determined Petitioner could perform her past relevant work as a receptionist, accounts payable clerk, and medical clerk. The ALJ did not reach step five, because Petitioner could not demonstrate an inability to perform past relevant work.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Petitioner bears the burden of showing that disability benefits are proper because of the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which... has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if her physical or mental impairments are of such severity that she not only cannot do her previous work but is unable, considering her age, education, and work experience, to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
On review, the Court is instructed to uphold the decision of the Commissioner if the decision is supported by substantial evidence and is not the product of legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Universal Camera Corp. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 340 U.S. 474 (1951); Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999) (as amended); DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance, Jamerson v Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1997), and "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).
The Court cannot disturb the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence, even though other evidence may exist that supports the petitioner's claims. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Flaten v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, will be conclusive. Flaten, 44 F.3d at 1457. It is well-settled that, if there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the Commissioner, the decision must be upheld even when the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the Commissioner's decision, because the Court "may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner." Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999).
When reviewing a case under the substantial evidence standard, the Court may question an ALJ's credibility assessment of a witness's testimony; however, an ALJ's credibility assessment is entitled to great weight, and the ALJ may disregard a claimant's self-serving statements. Rashad v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1229, 1231 (9th Cir. 1990). Where the ALJ makes a careful consideration of subjective complaints but provides adequate reasons for rejecting them, the ALJ's well-settled role as the ...