United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Candy W. Dale United States Magistrate Judge.
before the Court is Bethany Vardaman's Petition for
Review of the Respondent's denial of social security
benefits, filed on July 17, 2017. (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
AND FACTUAL HISTORY
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income on May 27, 2016, alleging
disability beginning January 19, 2007. This application was
denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was
held on March 1, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Jesse Shumway. After hearing testimony from Petitioner,
medical expert Marian Martin, Ph.D,, and vocational expert
Daniel McKinney, ALJ Shumway issued a decision finding
Petitioner not disabled on March 8, 2017. Petitioner timely
requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied her
request for review on May 16, 2017.
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).
completed high school, and thereafter served in the Navy from
May 21, 2003, through January 19, 2007, where she worked as
an electrical technician repairing aircraft. She was
honorably discharged from the Navy on January 19, 2007. At
the time of Petitioner's date last insured of September
30, 2011, she was twenty-six years of age. By the March 1,
2017 hearing, Petitioner was thirty-one years of age.
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 19, 2007. At step two, it must be determined whether
the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found
Petitioner's major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality
disorder, and traumatic brain injury severe within the
meaning of the Regulations.
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 any listed
impairments, specifically considering Listings 12.04, 12.06,
12.08, and 12.15 pertaining to mental disorders. 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.
determined that, up through her date last insured of
September 30, 2011, Petitioner retained the RFC to perform a
full range of work at all exertional levels, with
non-exertional limitations of unskilled and semi-skilled work
in a routine, predictable work environment with no more than
occasional changes; she could have only occasional,
superficial contact with the public, supervisors, and
coworkers; and, she could not work at an assembly-line pace.
upon his RFC finding, the ALJ found Petitioner was not able
to perform her past relevant work as an electrical
technician. 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. Upon receiving testimony
from the vocational expert, the ALJ determined Petitioner
retained the RFC to perform the requirements of
representative occupations such as garment sorter, industrial
cleaner, and laborer, stores. (AR 30.) Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded Petitioner was not under a disability at any time
from January 19, 2007, the alleged onset date, through
September 30, 2011, the date last insured, and issued a
finding of 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).
argues the ALJ erred at step four, raising the following
issues in her opening brief: (1) whether the ALJ properly
evaluated the medical evidence; (2) whether the ALJ properly
considered Petitioner's mental impairments; (3) whether
the ALJ properly evaluated Petitioner's symptom testimony
and, hence, her credibility; and (4) whether the ALJ properly
evaluated the Veteran's Administration disability
determination. Each issue will be discussed in turn.
raises two arguments with regard to the medical evidence.
First, she contends the ALJ failed to review the entire
record, including recent medical evaluations that diagnose
her with traumatic brain injury stemming from an accident in
2006. Second, she asserts the ALJ did not adequately evaluate
the opinions of Petitioner's treating physician, Dr.
Hampton, and the medical expert, Dr. Martin, who testified at
the hearing. Petitioner argues the ALJ failed to discuss Dr.
Hampton's opinion at all, and improperly assigned Dr.
Martin's opinion “great weight, ” even though
Dr. Martin is not a neurologist qualified to assess the
symptoms caused by Petitioner's brain injury.
Development of the Record
argues the ALJ failed to review the entire record because he
did not discuss over 233 pages of recent medical records,
thereby failing to develop the record. (Dkt. 18 at 17-20.)
Respondent points out that the records Petitioner claims were
ignored do not relate to the relevant period between
Petitioner's disability onset date of January 19, 2007,
through her date last insured, of September 30, 2011.
Consequently, Respondent argues the ALJ did not need to
expressly discuss the records given his conclusion ...