United States District Court, D. Idaho
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Candy W. Dale, United States Magistrate Judge
pending before the Court is Anita Stradley's Petition for
Review of the Respondent's denial of social security
benefits, filed on September 20, 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 recommend that the Court remand the decision of the
AND FACTUAL HISTORY
filed a Title II application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits, and also protectively filed a
Title XVI application for supplemental security income, on
April 5, 2013. These applications were denied initially and
on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on February 13,
2015, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Luke Brennan.
After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational
expert, ALJ Brennan issued a decision on March 30, 2015,
finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested
review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for
review on July 18, 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 1, 2013,
Petitioner was forty-four years of age. Petitioner
completed the eleventh grade, and her prior work experience
includes work as a customer service representative and as a
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 1, 2013. At step two, it must be determined whether
the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found
Petitioner's fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease,
idiopathic transverse myelitis, and loss of voice severe
within the meaning of the Regulations.
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 any listed
impairment, specifically considering Petitioner's
fibromyalgia under Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a
joint); back impairment under Listing 1.04 (disorders of the
spine); and transverse myelitis under Listing 11.00
(neurological disorders). The ALJ determined none of
Petitioner's impairments met or equaled the criteria for
the listed impairment considered.
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.
in formulating Petitioner's RFC, the ALJ reconciled the
various medical source opinions. He considered the statements
of the state agency medical consultants, Drs. Vestal and
Song, giving their opinions partial weight. Next, the ALJ
considered the opinions of Dr. John Casper, a consultative
examiner, giving his opinion great weight. And finally, the
ALJ gave treating physician Dr. Bill Laitinen's opinion
partial weight. Also considered was Jon Perry, PA-C's
opinion. The ALJ gave his opinion partial weight.
upon the ALJ's assessment of the medical evidence in the
record, the ALJ found Petitioner retained the residual
functional capacity for sedentary work, with the following
limitations: lift and carry twelve pounds occasionally and
eight pounds frequently; stand or walk for ten minutes
continuously, two hours out of an 8-hour day, with unlimited
sitting; and perform occasional job tasks requiring speaking.
found Petitioner had past relevant work as a customer service
representative and a collections manager, but was unable to
perform those occupations due to her impaired speaking
ability and restrictions upon standing and walking. 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
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 document preparer, final assembler
(optical), and stuffer. 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 ...