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Sardina v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 25, 2016

Tammie M. Sardina, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.



Plaintiff Tammie Sardina seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied her disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income (“SSI”). For the following reasons, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.


Sardina has bilateral knee pain, fibromyalgia, agoraphobia with panic attacks, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, lumbar radiculopathy, and is morbidly obese. (A.R. 20.) She has an eighth grade education and previously worked as a photocopying machine operator. (Id. at 46, 64.) In July 2011, Sardina applied for disability insurance benefits and SSI, alleging that her impairments became disabling as of November 22, 2010. (Id. at 185, 196.) Sardina appeared with her attorney at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 40-72.) A vocational expert also testified. (Id.) During the hearing, Sardina explained that her back pain and agoraphobia are the main sources of her allegedly disabling limitations. (Id. at 44-45, 48.) The ALJ found that, despite her impairments, Sardina has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with some modifications.[1] (Id. at 22.) Based on the RFC, the ALJ concluded that Sardina is not disabled because she is capable of performing her past relevant work, as well as other jobs that exist in the national economy. (Id. at 26-27.)

The Appeals Council denied Sardina’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Id. at 1-6.) Thereafter, Sardina appealed to this Court. (Doc. 1.)


The district court reviews only those issues raised by the party challenging the ALJ’s decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). The court may set aside the Commissioner’s disability determination only if the determination is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a whole. Id. As a general rule, “[w]here the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ’s decision, the ALJ’s conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).


Sardina argues that the RFC assessed by the ALJ is inconsistent with the limitations imposed by her impairments. Specifically, she contends that the ALJ improperly: (1) rejected Sardina’s symptom testimony and (2) weighed medical source opinions. (Doc. 25 at 14-25.)

A. Evaluation of Sardina’s Symptom Testimony

When evaluating the credibility of a claimant’s symptom testimony, the ALJ is required to engage in a two-step analysis: (1) determine whether the claimant presented objective medical evidence of an impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce some degree of the pain or other symptoms alleged; and, if so with no evidence of malingering, (2) reject the claimant’s testimony about the severity of the symptoms only by giving specific, clear, and convincing reasons for the rejection. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009).

The ALJ found that Sardina’s medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (A.R. 23.) However, the ALJ concluded that Sardina’s “statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible . . . .” (Id.) The ALJ did not find evidence of malingering and, therefore, was required to articulate clear and convincing reasons for discrediting Sardina’s testimony. The ALJ’s decision satisfies this standard.

The ALJ found that Sardina’s symptoms improved with medication and treatment. (Id. at 24.) Effective management with treatment or medication is a relevant consideration when evaluating the severity of a claimant’s symptoms. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(3), 416.929(c)(3). Impairments that can be controlled with medication or treatment are not disabling. See Crane v. Shalala, 76 F.3d 251, 254 (9th Cir. 1996). Here, treatment records show that Sardina’s back pain reduced by sixty percent following a spinal cord simulator trial in May 2012. (A.R. 24, 632.) Subsequent records indicated reduced or no back pain. (Id. at 24, 674.) Likewise, Sardina’s mental health treatment providers noted that she did well on medication. (Id. at 25, 652.) Indeed, Sardina testified during the administrative hearing that her mental conditions were controllable with medication. (Id. at 49.) Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding.

The ALJ also found that the Sardina’s testimony was inconsistent with her activities of daily living and the objective medical evidence. (Id. at 24-26.) Inconsistency with other relevant evidence is a sufficient reason for discounting a claimant’s testimony. See Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 680-81 (9th Cir. 2005). Here, Sardina reported that she has difficulties interacting with and relating to others, but her treatment providers noted that Sardina related well, had normal affect and demeanor, euthymic mood, good eye contact, and was cooperative. (Id. at 25-26, 48-49, 351, 398, 485, 576.) Additionally, although Sardina testified that she has difficulties maintaining concentration, she also reported spending considerable time reading and playing computer games. (Id. at 24, ...

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