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Campbell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 20, 2018

KEITH L. CAMPBELL, Petitioner,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.




         Pending before the Court is Petitioner Keith L. Campbell's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits. (Dkt. 1.) The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record, and for the reasons that follow, will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.


         Petitioner filed a Title II application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on June 30, 2013, claiming disability beginning May 15, 2013. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a video hearing was conducted on July 14, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Michele M. Kelley. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and vocational expert Bob G. Zadow, ALJ Kelley issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled on August 27, 2015. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on April 20, 2017. 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 hearing, Petitioner was 34 years of age. Petitioner has completed one year of college-level studies and has also completed a certified nursing assistant training course. Petitioner's prior employment experience includes work as a personal care attendant, psychiatric aid, nursing assistant, and medical assistant.


         The Commissioner follows a five-step evaluation for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 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, May 15, 2013. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's clotting disorder, post thrombotic disorder, and pulmonary emboli severe within the meaning of the Regulations. 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c).

         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 Listing 7.08, disorders of thrombosis and hemostasis. (AR 22.)[1] 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.

         The ALJ found Petitioner was able to perform his past relevant work as personal care attendant and maintenance assistant. The ALJ determined also, at step five, that Petitioner 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. The ALJ concluded Petitioner would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as: production assembler, inspector and hand packager, and packing line worker. (AR 29.) As such, the ALJ found Petitioner has not been under a disability from May 15, 2013, the alleged onset date, through the date of her determination, August 27, 2015.


         Petitioner bears the burden of showing that disability benefits are proper because of 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).

         A claimant may obtain review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security by a civil action filed in federal district court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The SSA regulations provide the definition of “final decision.” Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107, (2000). When the Appeals Council grants review of a claim, the decision issued by the Council is the Commissioner's final decision. Id. However, if the Appeals Council denies the claimant's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. In this matter, the Appeals Council denied Petitioner's request for review. (AR at 1.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the decision of the Commissioner in this case.

         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; however, the credibility assessment is entitled to great weight; 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).


         In this matter, Petitioner contends the ALJ erred at step three by failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of his treating physician and by failing to properly assess Petitioner's credibility. Additionally, Petitioner argues the ALJ erred at step four by failing to consider all functional limitations in her determination of his RFC. Independent of Petitioner's arguments regarding the ALJ's decision, he contends that an opinion letter written by his treating physician after the date of the ALJ's decision and submitted to the Appeals Council was erroneously omitted from the administrative record. He attached the letter to his opening brief before the Court. Petitioner argues that the medical opinion expressed in the letter should be included in the Court's consideration and be afforded controlling weight. The Court will first review Petitioner's arguments regarding the ALJ's decision and will next discuss the letter submitted to the Appeals Council.

         I. The Administrative Law ...

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