United States District Court, D. Idaho
MARCELLA J. SANDERSON, Petitioner,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge
pending before the Court is Marcella Sanderson's Petition
for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security
benefits, filed on June 17, 2016. (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 remand the decision of
AND FACTUAL HISTORY
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income on September 18, 2012. This
application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and
a hearing was held on February 19, 2014, before
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) MaryAnn Lunderman. After
hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert,
ALJ Lunderman issued a decision on May 27, 2014, finding
Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review
by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review
on April 13, 2016.
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 alleged disability onset date of January 3, 2012,
Petitioner was forty-five years of age. Petitioner has a high
school education, and her prior work experience includes work
as a personnel clerk, a bookkeeper, and a coffee house
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
January 3, 2012. At step two, it must be determined whether
the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found
Petitioner's discogenic and degenerative disorder of the
back, mild degenerative changes of the right shoulder,
fibromyalgia, and obesity 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 Petitioner's
fibromyalgia and obesity under Section 1.04 (disorders of the
spine). 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. Based upon the adverse credibility finding, the ALJ
next rejected the opinions of Petitioner's treating
physician, Dr. Hicks, and the third party statements of
Petitioner's husband, a co-worker, and a neighbor, on the
grounds that these witnesses simply “parroted the
subjective complaints already testified to and reported by
the claimant.” (AR 27.) After so doing, the ALJ
determined Petitioner retained the RFC to perform light work,
including her past work as a personnel clerk, bookkeeper, and
coffee house worker, with limitations on climbing, overhead
reaching with her right upper extremity, and no direct
exposure to vibrations.
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
residual functional capacity, age, education and work
experience. Here, the ALJ found also that Petitioner retained
the ability to perform the requirements of representative
occupations such as office helper, mail clerk, and counter
clerk, all classified as light work. 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).
believes the ALJ erred at step four. Specifically, Petitioner
argues the ALJ erred in rejecting Petitioner's subjective
complaints, failed to provide germane reasons for rejecting
lay witnesses' statements, and erred in rejecting the
opinion of treating physician Laurence V. Hicks, D.O. The
Court will discuss each assignment of error in turn.
is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir.
1998). The ALJ's findings must be supported by specific,
cogent reasons. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 722. If a
claimant produces objective medical evidence of an underlying
impairment, an ALJ may not reject a claimant's subjective
complaints of pain based solely on lack of medical evidence.
Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 680 (9th Cir.
2005). See also Light v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 119 F.3d
789, 792 (9th Cir. 1997) ...