United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is the Petition for Review of
Respondent's denial of Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income filed by Petitioner Robert Egan
on November 12, 2015. (Dkt. 1.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), the parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction
over this matter by the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge. (Dkt. 10.) 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.
AND FACTUAL HISTORY
Egan filed an application for Social Security Disability
Insurance Benefits on July 6, 2012, claiming disability
beginning January 17, 2012, due to back and neck pain,
shoulder pain, memory loss, depression, and headaches. (AR
166, 212.) His application was denied initially and on
reconsideration, and a video hearing was held on February 6,
2014, with Egan participating via video-conference in Boise,
Idaho, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Deborah J. Van
Vleck in New Mexico. After considering testimony from Egan
and a vocational expert, ALJ Van Vleck issued a decision
finding Egan not disabled on March 28, 2014. (AR 17.) Egan
requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his
request for review on September 18, 2015. Egan appealed this
final decision to the Court. The Court has jurisdiction to
review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
time of the hearing, Egan was 44 years of age. He has a high
school education and no college. Egan's prior work
includes scrap metal salvager, construction worker, and
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 Egan had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date,
January 17, 2012.
two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from
a severe impairment. The ALJ found Egan's degenerative
disc disease of the cervical lumbar spine, and “mental
impairment variously diagnosed to include depression and
anxiety, and mild executive dysfunction” severe within
the meaning of the regulations.
three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal
a listed impairment. The ALJ found Egan's impairments did
not meet or equal the criteria for listed impairments,
specifically considering the criteria of Listings 1.04
(disorders of the spine), 12.02 (neurocognitive disorders),
12.04 (depressive, bipolar and related disorders), 12.06
(anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders), and 12.08
(personality and impulse-control disorders). If a
claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing,
the Commissioner must determine the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) and next determine, at step four,
whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform
past relevant work.
found Egan had the RFC to perform light work, except that
Egan should no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
should never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; he should
no more than occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; he should no more than occasionally reach overhead
bilaterally, should no more than frequently reach in other
directions bilaterally, frequently handle bilaterally and not
more than occasionally finger bilaterally, and there are no
limitations on feelings in his fingers. He should never work
in the presence of unprotected heights or hazardous
machinery; he should not be required to operate a motor
vehicle as part of his job; he should never work in the
presence of concentrated exposure to vibration; he is limited
to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks; and he is
limited to judgment decisions and work place changes that are
consistent with simple, routine competitive work.
found that, with this RFC, Egan was not able to perform his
past relevant work as a scrap metal salvager, construction
worker, or operating engineer. 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 RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Here, the ALJ found Egan
retained the ability to perform the requirements of
representative occupations such as an usher, furniture rental
consultant, and children's attendant. Therefore, the ALJ
found Egan 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 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.
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 committed multiple errors at step four. Egan
first argues the ALJ erred by failing to provide adequate
reasons for assigning minimal weight to the opinions of his
treating and examining physicians and his neuropsychologist.
Second, he claims the ALJ erred by not properly determining
his RFC because she failed to assess Egan's work-related
abilities on a function-by-function basis. Finally, Egan
argues the ALJ's credibility assessment regarding the
alleged severity of his subjective pain complaints and
limitations associated with his neck and back pain, and
mental impairments is neither clear and convincing nor
supported by substantial evidence in the record. Each of
Egan's assignments of error will be discussed in turn.
argues the ALJ erred by failing to provide specific and
legitimate reasonsfor rejecting, or providing only minimal
weight to, the opinions of his treating and examining
physician Dr. Verst, and two examining medical professionals,
Drs. Blair and Eastvold. The Commissioner contends the ALJ
reasonably weighed all medical opinion evidence; the Court
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
distinguishes among the opinions of three types of
physicians: (1) those who treat the claimant (treating
physicians); (2) those who examine but do not treat the
claimant (examining physicians); and (3) those who neither
examine nor treat the claimant (non-examining physicians).
Lester v. Chatter, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir.1995).
Generally, more weight is accorded to the opinion of a
treating source than to nontreating physicians. Winans v.
Bowen, 853 F.2d 643, 647 (9th Cir.1987).
treating physician's opinion is not contradicted by
another doctor, it may be rejected only for “clear and
convincing” reasons. Baxter v. Sullivan, 923
F.2d 1391, 1396 (9th Cir.1991). If the treating doctor's
opinion is contradicted by another doctor, the Commissioner
may not reject the treating physician's opinion without
providing “specific and legitimate reasons”
supported by substantial evidence in the record for so doing.
Murray v. Heckler,722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir.1983).
Likewise, the ALJ must provide clear and convincing reasons
for rejecting the un-contradicted opinions of an examining
physician. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31
(9th Cir. 1995), as amended (Apr. 9, 1996). And,
“like the opinion of a treating ...