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Sharp v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 13, 2019

NEIL RORY SHARP, Petitioner,
ANDREW SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Respondent.




         Currently pending before the Court is Neil Sharp's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on June 13, 2018. (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 remand the decision of the Commissioner.


         Petitioner filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, on July 8, 2014. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was conducted on November 27, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Stephen Marchioro. After considering testimony from Petitioner, a medical expert, and a vocational expert, ALJ Marchioro issued a decision on December 12, 2016, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on April 13, 2018.

         Petitioner timely 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 May 16, 2014, Petitioner was thirty-two years of age. Petitioner completed the seventh grade and did not complete additional formal education. His past relevant work experience includes work as a construction laborer.


         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 May 16, 2014. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's degenerative disc disease, baker's cyst (left knee), major depressive disorder, social phobia disorder, and intermittent explosive/impulse control 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 musculoskeletal and mental impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for any listed impairment. The ALJ considered Listings 1.04 (Spine Disorders), 1.02 (Major Dysfunction of a Joint), 12.04 (Depressive Disorders), and 12.06 (Anxiety Disorders). (AR 216-216.) If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and then determine, at step four, whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work.

         The ALJ determined Petitioner retained the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with limitations. The ALJ found Petitioner could occasionally operate foot controls with his left lower extremity; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ropes, ladders and scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and that he must avoid all use of unguarded moving mechanical parts and exposure to unprotected heights. The ALJ further limited Petitioner to performing work tasks consisting of only simple, routine, repetitive tasks, with occasional interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisors.

         In determining Petitioner's RFC, the ALJ found that Petitioner's impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms he alleged, but that his statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his conditions were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence, his treatment history, and his daily activities. (AR 219.) In doing so, the ALJ considered the opinions of Petitioner's treating providers, Dr. Gardner and Howard Carroll, LCPC. The ALJ found that a review of the medical evidence did not support Dr. Gardner's medical source statement limiting Petitioner to sitting for one out of every eight hours and standing and walking for less than one out of every eight hours, or his opinion that Petitioner had significant bilateral manipulative and reaching limitations. (AR 222.) However, the ALJ credited Dr. Gardner's opinion in terms of its “consistency with a sedentary RFC, ” according that aspect of the opinion “considerable weight.”

         The ALJ gave Howard Carroll's mental RFC opinion “little weight, ” finding his opinion that Petitioner suffered from extreme and marked limitations in several areas of social interaction “inconsistent with the claimant's treatment notes” from multiple providers. The ALJ found also that Carroll's opinions were inconsistent with those of Dr. Farnsworth, who provided an opinion as a consulting psychologist and testified at the hearing. Dr. Farnsworth's opinion is that Petitioner had mild limitations in most aspects of his social functioning, as he was stabilized with medication. (AR 223.) The ALJ nonetheless gave Dr. Farsnworth's opinion “partial weight, ” because of its inconsistency with Petitioner's testimony and treatment evidence. (AR 223.)

         Based upon his evaluation of the record and the hypothetical posed to the vocational expert, the ALJ found Petitioner was able to perform work as a touch-up inspector, spotter (table worker), and dowel inspector, all of which are sedentary jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy. 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 her 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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