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Dugger v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 21, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.


          Candy W. Dale, United States Magistrate Judge

         Currently pending before the Court is Richard Dugger's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on December 23, 2016. (Dkt. 1.) The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record (AR). For the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.


         Petitioner filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, on April 5, 2012. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was conducted on July 9, 2013, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Arthur Cahn. ALJ Cahn issued a decision on July 12, 2013, finding Petitioner not disabled. On December 8, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded Petitioner's claim because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Petitioner's alleged symptoms related to his ability to use his hands and arms. A second hearing was held on April 30, 2015, before ALJ Lloyd Hartford. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, ALJ Hartford issued a decision on August 6, 2015, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on October 24, 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 January 11, 2010, Petitioner was forty-one years of age. Petitioner completed the tenth grade, and his prior work experience includes work as an auto glass installer.


         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 his alleged onset date of January 11, 2010. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's thoracic outlet syndrome, brachial plexus neuropathy, complex regional pain syndrome, degenerative disc disease in the cervical and thoracic spine, and asthma, 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 thoracic outlet syndrome, brachial plexus neuropathy, and complex regional pain syndrome under Listing 11.14, which pertains to peripheral neuropathies. 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 residual functional capacity, the ALJ determines whether Petitioner's complaints about the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of his symptoms are credible.

         Here, the ALJ determined Petitioner's complaints were not entirely credible based upon certain inconsistencies in Petitioner's testimony and the medical evidence of record. Additionally, upon considering the medical opinion evidence, the ALJ gave significant weight to the assessments by non-examining state agency physicians Ward Dickey, M.D., and Michael Spackman, M.D., and limited weight to the physical capacity assessment by Petitioner's treating physician, Nita Weber, D.O., and to the assessment by Richard Head, M.D., who performed a consultative examination.

         Accordingly, the ALJ found Petitioner retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work. The ALJ found Petitioner retained the ability to lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally, push and pull 10 pounds occasionally, stand/walk for 2 hours per day, sit for 6 hours per day, and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.

         The ALJ found Petitioner had past relevant work as an auto glass installer, but because it required medium physical exertion as generally performed, and heavy exertion as actually performed, the ALJ concluded Petitioner did not retain an ability to perform his past relevant work. 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 order clerk, telephone information clerk, and janitor/cleaner. With the exception of the janitor/cleaner job, which is classified as light-unskilled work, the remaining occupations are classified as sedentary unskilled work. Consequently, the ALJ determined Petitioner was not disabled.


         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 his 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. § 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 ...

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