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Owens v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 14, 2017

Lorrie Owens o/b/o Alan Owens, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          James A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the denial of her deceased husband's claim for social security disability benefits. Plaintiff alleges two claims of error on appeal: 1) the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) did not properly discredit the claimant's subjective symptom testimony; and 2) the ALJ did not properly discredit certain treating medical opinions. With respect to the second claim of error, Plaintiff identifies four medical sources that Plaintiff claims the ALJ did not properly discredit: 1) Dr. Jensen; 2) Dr. Goodell; 3) Dr. Geary; and 4) Nurse Grissom. Plaintiff argues that if the claimant's self-reported symptoms and the four identified medical opinions had all been credited, claimant would have been found disabled.


         The ALJ's decision to deny benefits will be overturned “only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence” means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).

         “The inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached by the ALJ.” Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support a decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. “Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence.” Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453 (citations omitted); see Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This is because “[t]he trier of fact and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and if the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.” Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2012). On the other hand, the Court “may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation and citation omitted).

         Finally, the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and making its own judgment as to whether Plaintiff is or is not disabled. Rather, the Court's inquiry is constrained to the reasons asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied on in support of those reasons. See Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).


         A. Claimant's Reported Symptoms

         1. ALJ's Findings Regarding Claimant's Reported Symptoms

         “Unless an ALJ makes a finding of malingering based on affirmative evidence thereof, ” the ALJ may only find the claimant not credible by making specific findings supported by the record that provide clear and convincing reasons to explain her credibility evaluation. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 883 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1283-84 (9th Cir. 1996)). In this case, both parties agree that the ALJ made no finding of malingering; and, therefore, was required to give clear and convincing reasons to reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of his symptoms. (Doc. 18 at 7; Doc. 17 at 23).

         In rendering a credibility determination, the ALJ may consider several factors, including: “(1) ordinary techniques of credibility evaluation, such as the claimant's reputation for lying, prior inconsistent statements concerning the symptoms, and other testimony by the claimant that appears less than candid; (2) unexplained or inadequately explained failure to seek treatment or to follow a prescribed course of treatment; and (3) the claimant's daily activities.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1284). If the ALJ relies on these factors and his reliance is supported by substantial evidence, the Court “may not engage in second-guessing.” Id. (quoting Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 958-59 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         In this case, the ALJ found the “claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limited effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible….” Doc. 11-3 at 40.[1] The ALJ gave many reasons why the ALJ found the claimant's testimony to be less than credible.

         First, the ALJ found that claimant's statements were inconsistent with his residual functional capacity. Id. The Court finds this finding is supported by the record.

         Second, the ALJ found claimant had minimal treatment and that the claimant received only “routine, conservative, and non-emergency” treatment. Id. at 41. Plaintiff disputes this finding arguing that he did have an emergency in patient hospitalization. Doc. 17 at 25. The ALJ stated, “…claimant reported having been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment; however, there are no treatment records from this incident.” Doc. 11-3 at 41. Upon this Court's review, it appears that the records of this ...

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