United States District Court, D. Idaho
v. ANGELA NORTHNESS, Petitioner, CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge.
pending before the Court is Angela Northness's Petition
for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security
benefits, filed on November 3, 2015. (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
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income on September 25, 2012. This
application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and
a hearing was held on February 11, 2014, before
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Molleur. After hearing
testimony from Petitioner, Petitioner's father, and a
vocational expert, ALJ Molleur issued a decision on March 13,
2014, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely
requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her
request for review on September 25, 2015.
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).
time of the hearing, Petitioner was twenty-eight years of
age. Petitioner has a college education, having graduated
from Boise State University with a bachelor's degree in
English Literature in 2009. Her prior work experience
includes part-time work as a developmental therapy
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. Although Petitioner had prior work
experience, the ALJ found Petitioner's previous work
experience did not rise to the level of substantial gainful
activity. Therefore, the ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date
of August 17, 2011.
two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from
a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's bipolar
disorder, linea morphea, scleroderma, Sjogren's syndrome,
and nephrolithiasis severe within the meaning of the
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 considering Listings 12.04,
affective disorders; 12.04, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma);
14.09, inflammatory arthritis; and 14.10, Sjogren's
syndrome. The ALJ determined none of Petitioner's
impairments met or equaled the criteria for the listed
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. In assessing Petitioner's functional
capacity, the ALJ determines whether Petitioner's
complaints about the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of her pain are credible.
the ALJ found Petitioner's complaints not entirely
credible. The ALJ found also that the medical source
statements of Petitioner's treating physicians, Drs.
Knibbe and Belnap, were not consistent with the medical
records as a whole from Petitioner's onset date forward.
Accordingly, the ALJ gave their opinions limited weight.
so doing, the ALJ determined Petitioner retained the RFC to
perform less than the full range of light work, with
limitations upon sitting, standing and walking. The ALJ found
Petitioner was able to lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently, and should avoid climbing ladders
and performing postural activities occasionally. The ALJ
limited Petitioner to frequent forceful gripping or twisting,
and handling and fingering, with her hands. The ALJ further
limited Petitioner to avoiding concentrated exposure to
dusts, fumes, gases, poor ventilation, noxious odors, and
temperature extremes. Finally, the ALJ limited Petitioner to
work requiring uninvolved 3-4 step tasks, occasional contact
with the general public, and frequent interaction with
co-workers and supervisors. (AR 18.)
found Petitioner had no past relevant work, and therefore
proceeded to step five. 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. Here, the ALJ found Petitioner
retained the ability to perform the requirements of
representative occupations such as office helper, warehouse
support worker, and document preparer. Consequently, the ALJ
determined Petitioner was not disabled.
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.
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).
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).
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).
contends the ALJ erred at steps three and four. Specifically,
Petitioner argues the ALJ's determination that
Petitioner's mental impairments did not meet Listing
12.04 was in error; that he improperly rejected the opinions
of Dr. Grant Belnap and Dr. Patrick Knibbe, as well as the
testimony of Petitioner's father; and that the ALJ's
credibility assessment was in error. Consequently, Petitioner
asserts the RFC determination did not adequately take into
account the cumulative effects of Petitioner's mental and
physical limitations, and was erroneous. The Court will
address each of Petitioner's arguments below.