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Curtis v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 22, 2015

ARVID ANN CURTIS, Petitioner,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court for consideration is Petitioner Arvid Ann Curtis's (Petitioner) Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on August 23, 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 Social Security Disability Insurance benefits on December 10, 2009. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) R.J. Payne conducted a hearing on October 11, 2011, and a supplemental hearing on May 14, 2012. During the course of the two hearings, the ALJ heard testimony from Petitioner, Petitioner's husband, and medical expert John Morse, M.D. ALJ Payne initially issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on November 14, 2011, but vacated that decision after holding the supplemental hearing. ALJ Payne then issued a decision on June 8, 2012, finding Petitioner not disabled and capable of preforming her past relevant work as a sales clerk. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request on June 27, 2013, and issued a written decision.

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 May 14, 2012 supplemental hearing, Petitioner was 62 years of age. Petitioner has a high school education and some additional vocational schooling in the area of public speaking. Petitioner's prior work experience includes past work as a sales clerk, home health aide, janitor, and brake technician.

SEQUENTIAL PROCESS

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 her alleged onset date of June 30, 2009. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's chronic headaches, obesity, asthma, multilevel spondylosis in the cervical spine, and degenerative disc disease in her lumbar spine severe within the meaning of the Regulations.

Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments, specifically listings 1.04 (spinal disorders) and 3.03 (asthma). 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 retained the RFC to perform a wide range of light work with physical limitations, which included never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but that she could climb stairs and ramps frequently, and she could balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel. The RFC included also avoidance of concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, unprotected heights, and moving machinery.

Based upon the ALJ's RFC assessment, the ALJ found Petitioner was able to perform her past relevant work as a sales clerk. Because Petitioner did not demonstrate an inability to perform past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five.

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 ...


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