United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.
Before the Court is Petitioner Bret McBride's Petition for Review of Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed May 8, 2014. (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 November 30, 2011, claiming disability beginning October 20, 2009, due to gout, arthritis, obesity, back pain, photosensitivity, fibromyalgia, asthma, sleep apnea, and laryngitis. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was conducted on December 14, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Molleur. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, ALJ Molleur issued a decision on January 25, 2013, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on April 9, 2014.
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 40 years of age. Petitioner holds a bachelor's degree and has completed most of the requirements for a master's degree in communications. Petitioner's prior work experience includes experience as a customer service/sales representative.
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 he applied for benefits on November 30, 2011. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's obesity, degenerative joint disease of the bilateral knees, photosensitivity, gout, asthma, and obstructive sleep apnea severe within the meaning of the Regulations. On the other hand, the ALJ found not severe Petitioner's alleged laryngitis and fibromyalgia, as well as his diagnosed chorioetinitis, vitreous floaters, and myopia.
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 1.02 (major joint dysfunction), 3.03 (asthma), 3.10 (sleep-related breathing disorders), and 14.00 (immune system disorders). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. 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 had the RFC to perform a limited range of sedentary work. Accordingly, the ALJ determined Petitioner remained able to perform his past relevant work as a customer/service sales representative in a call center. Based on this finding, the ALJ determined Petitioner was not disabled and denied his application for benefits.
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 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 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 ...