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Steiner-Leach v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 13, 2017

SHARLA STEINER-LEACH, Petitioner,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Currently pending before the Court is Sharla Steiner-Leach's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on November 4, 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 the Commissioner.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on November 14, 2012. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on April 10, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Lloyd Hartford. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, ALJ Hartford issued a decision on June 2, 2014, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on September 11, 2015.

         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 twenty-five years of age. Petitioner has a high school education. Her prior work experience includes full-time work as a cashier, having worked at Home Depot in the past.

         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 November 14, 2012.

         At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's disorder of the muscle, ligament, and fascia, which affected the use of her dominant right hand, 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 considering Listing 1.02 for major dysfunction of a joint.

         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. 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.

         Here, the ALJ found Petitioner's complaints about the intensity and persistence of her pain not entirely credible. The ALJ found also that the medical source statements of Petitioner's treating physicians, Drs. Gustavel and Krafft, were not consistent with the medical records as a whole from Petitioner's onset date forward. Accordingly, the ALJ gave the physicians' opinions limited weight.

         After so doing, the ALJ determined Petitioner retained the ability to perform light work, with the exception that she could lift or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit six hours during an eight-hour workday; occasionally push or pull with the right upper extremity; never climb and occasionally crawl; occasionally reach in front, laterally, and overhead and occasionally handle, finger and feel with the right upper extremity. (AR 18.) The ALJ further stated that Petitioner is essentially a one-armed worker due to her right shoulder impairment, and is limited to using her right arm as a helper as Petitioner described during her testimony. (AR 18.)

         The ALJ found Petitioner did not retain the ability to perform her past relevant work as a cashier, 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 surveillance system monitor, escort driver, and information clerk. Consequently, the ALJ determined Petitioner was not disabled.

         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., AA 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, AA 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. Rashadv. 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 ...


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