United States District Court, D. Idaho
PAUL G. ANDERSON, Petitioner,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.
Before the Court is Paul Anderson's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed November 19, 2013. (Dkt. 1.) 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 Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on August 19, 2010, claiming disability as of July 1, 2009. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on June 12, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Molleur. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, ALJ Molleur issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on June 27, 2012. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on October 30, 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 51 years of age. Petitioner has some high school education and has earned a GED. Petitioner's prior work experience includes delivery truck driver, warehouse worker, and restaurant kitchen worker.
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 substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date, July 1, 2009. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner had the following severe impairments within the meaning of the Social Security Administration regulations: status post melanoma with polyp and lymph node removal, obesity, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and history of polysubstance abuse in sustained remission.
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 listings 12.04 (affective disorders), 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders), 12.09 (substance addiction disorders), and 13.03 (malignant neoplastic disease of the skin). 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 a limited range of light unskilled work. Based on this RFC, the ALJ found Petitioner was not able to perform his past relevant work as a delivery truck driver and warehouse 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. Based on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ concluded Petitioner was not disabled because he could perform other work, including motel housekeeper, mailer machine operator, and parking lot attendant.
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 that 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). 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. Id. 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).
Petitioner believes the ALJ erred at steps three and four. First, Petitioner argues the ALJ had insufficient reasons for discrediting Petitioner's reports about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his impairments, including his hand tremors, left arm pain, and history of psychiatric hospitalizations. Second, Petitioner claims ALJ Molleur improperly weighed the medical opinion evidence, giving too little weight to the opinions of Petitioner's treating mental health care providers-Nurse Practitioner Joycelyn Reiland and Dr. Scott Hoopes. Third, Petitioner argues the ALJ's RFC finding did not account for all of ...