United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
W. DALE U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
pending before the Court for consideration is Teresa Marie
Williams's Petition for Review of the Respondent's
denial of social security benefits, filed February 7, 2017.
(Dkt. 1.) The Court has reviewed the Petition and the Answer,
the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record
(AR), and for the reasons that follow, will remand to the
Commissioner with further instructions.
AND FACTUAL HISTORY
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income on June 11, 2015. This
application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and
a hearing was held on May 25, 2016, before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Stephen Marchioro.
hearing testimony from Petitioner and vocational expert
Cassie Mills, ALJ Marchioro issued a decision on July 22,
2016, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely
requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her
request on October 14, 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).
time of the hearing, Petitioner was 54 years of age. She has
an undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Boise State
University. Petitioner's prior work experience includes
full-time employment with the Army Reserve in human
resources, and employment with the Ada County Juvenile Court
as a probation officer. She was honorably discharged from the
Army Reserve on October 16, 2013, due to a finding of
permanent disability by the United States Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA). (AR 334.) She claims she became
disabled on January 22, 2014, and is applying for disability
benefits from that date forward.
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 22, 2014. (AR 34.)
two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from
a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's diabetes
mellitus, peripheral neuropathy, obesity, chronic kidney
disease, thrombosis, degenerative joint disease of the
bilateral shoulders, status-post multiple shoulder surgeries,
degenerative joint disease of the right knee, status post
multiple surgeries, and degenerative disc disease of the
cervical and lumbar spine were all severe within the meaning
of the Regulations. (AR 33); 20 CFR 404.1520(c). The ALJ
determined that Petitioner's carpal tunnel syndrome,
hyperlipidemia, and hypertension were not severe within the
meaning of the Regulations, finding that the documented
occurrence of the symptoms and impairments failed to meet the
basic threshold for longevity and severity. Id.
three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal
a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner did not
have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met
or equaled the criteria for the listed impairments,
specifically considering listings 1.00, 1.00(B)(2)(c), 1.02,
1.04, 2.00, 4.00, 4.11, 5.00, 6.00, 6.02, 6.06, 8.00,
9.00(B)(5), 11.00, 12.00. (AR 34-35.) Petitioner does not
challenge this finding.
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. When assessing Petitioner's RFC, the
ALJ determines whether Petitioner's complaints about the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her pain are
the ALJ found Petitioner's complaints not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in
the record. The ALJ found also that the disability rating
from the VA was arrived at through different methodology than
that used by the Social Security Administration and thus gave
the rating little weight. After doing so, the ALJ determined
Petitioner retained the RFC to perform light work, with
limitations on all overhead lifting, restrictions against all
climbing of ladders, ropes and scaffolds, and instructions to
avoid exposure to excessive vibration, unprotected heights,
and unguarded, moving mechanical parts. The ALJ found
Petitioner was able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally,
and 10 pounds frequently, and could stand or walk for up to
six hours, and sit up for six hours during an eight-hour
workday. The ALJ limited Petitioner to occasional balance
activities, such as stooping, kneeling, crouching and
crawling, as well as occasional climbing of ramps and stairs.
He also found she could occasionally reach overhead
the ALJ found Petitioner had the residual functional capacity
to perform her past work as a human resource manager, he also
proceeded to step five. The Commissioner has the burden, at
step five, to demonstrate 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 Petitioner retained the ability to
perform the requirements of representative light work
occupations such as a counter attendant, ticket taker, and
silverware wrapper. 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 generally 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 a 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 that the ALJ's decision to deny her benefits was
not supported by substantial evidence and was based on the
incorrect legal standard. Specifically, Petitioner argues
that the ALJ erred at step two when he determined
Petitioner's carpal tunnel syndrome, hyperlipidemia, and
hypertension were not severe. Petitioner asserts the ALJ
further erred when he rejected the opinion of a treating
provider and the VA disability assessment in favor of
non-examining, non-treating agency consultants. Petitioner
alleges also that the ALJ erred when he found that the
Petitioner's allegations of pain and other symptoms were
not consistent with the medical record. And finally,
Petitioner argues the ALJ erred by assigning Petitioner an
RFC that is not supported by substantial evidence because it
did not adequately account for the cumulative effects of
Petitioner's limitations. The Court will address each of
Petitioner's arguments in turn.