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Deason v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 29, 2014

CHARLES D. DEASON, JR., Petitioner,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Petitioner Charles Deason's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1) of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed March 18, 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 decision of the Commissioner.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

Petitioner filed an application for Title II disability insurance benefits on April 27, 2009, alleging disability due to various mental and physical impairments-including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, early demyelinating polyneuropathy, and chronic pain. Petitioner claimed a period of disability beginning on December 15, 2006, and ending on the date last insured, March 31, 2010. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on June 23, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Molleur. After hearing testimony from Petitioner, a vocational expert, and Petitioner's wife, Leslie Deason, ALJ Molleur issued a decision on July 21, 2011, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on January 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 hearing, Petitioner was 39 years of age. He attended school through the twelfth grade. His prior work experience includes oil pipeline operator, ice rink manager, maintenance mechanic, and hotel maintenance worker.

SEQUENTIAL PROCESS

The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. 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 his alleged onset date of December 15, 2006. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, early demyelinating polyneuropathy, and chronic pain 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 the listed impairments, specifically musculoskeletal, neurological, and mental impairments. 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 determined Petitioner had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except with a sit/stand option; no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; no work at unprotected heights; no exposure to moving machinery; no public contact; and only occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors.

The ALJ found Petitioner was not able to perform his past relevant work as an oil pipeline operator, ice rink manager, maintenance mechanic, or hotel maintenance worker. If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate, at step five, that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant levels in the national economy, after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience. ALJ Molleur found Petitioner not disabled, because he was capable of successfully adjusting to other work despite his mental and physical impairments.

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 Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if his physical or mental impairments are of such severity that he not only cannot do his previous work but is unable, considering his 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 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). 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 judge of credibility will be upheld as based on substantial evidence. Matthews v. Shalala, 10 F.3d 678, 679-80 (9th Cir. 1993).

DISCUSSION

Petitioner contends the ALJ erred in determining Petitioner's RFC because the ALJ improperly (1) discredited the testimony of Petitioner and his wife, (2) weighed the medical evidence, and (3) failed to account for the cumulative effects of Petitioner's mental and physical impairments. First, however, the Court briefly addresses the issue of venue, because the ...


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