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McCall v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 8, 2018

DARCY MAE MCCALL, Petitioner,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE CANDY W. DALE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Currently pending before the Court is Darcy McCall's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on August 8, 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 affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

         Petitioner filed an application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f on September 5, 2013. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was conducted on March 19, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ben Willner. After considering testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, ALJ Willner issued a decision on June 4, 2015, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on June 2, 2016.

         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 alleged disability onset date of December 30, 2012, Petitioner was thirty-eight years of age. Petitioner completed the ninth grade, and her prior work experience includes work as a housekeeper, a food service worker, and a convenience store clerk.

         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 December 30, 2012. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder severe within the meaning of the Regulations.

         Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments, specifically considering Petitioner's mental impairments under Listings 12.04 (affective disorders) and 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders). The ALJ determined none of Petitioner's impairments met or equaled the criteria for the listed impairment considered.

         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 symptoms are credible.

         Here, the ALJ determined Petitioner's complaints were not entirely credible based upon Petitioner's daily activities and the medical evidence of record. Additionally, upon considering the medical opinion evidence, the ALJ gave partial weight to the assessments by non-examining state agency physicians Mack Stephenson, Ph.D., and Scott Shafer, Ph.D., and little weight to the mental capacity assessment of Petitioner's treating physician, Michael Millward, M.D. The ALJ found the medical record did not demonstrate any physical impairments.

         Accordingly, the ALJ found Petitioner retained the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but because of her mental impairments, Petitioner would be limited to work that involved simple tasks with simple instructions that could be learned within a short demonstration period. The ALJ further limited Petitioner to working primarily with tangible objects rather than people, but being able to tolerate minimal contact with coworkers and the public. Additionally, the ALJ found Petitioner could maintain concentration, pace, and persistence on a limited range of tasks for two hours before needing to take a break, after which she would be able to resume her work.

         The ALJ found Petitioner had past relevant work as a housekeeper. Because Petitioner did not demonstrate an inability to perform past relevant work, the ALJ did not reach step five. 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., 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).

         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. 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 ...


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