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Muldner v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 20, 2017

Bryon D Muldner, 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 his claim for social security disability benefits. On appeal, Plaintiff raises four claims of error: 1) that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to give sufficient reasons to not fully credit Plaintiff's symptom testimony, 2) that the ALJ failed to give sufficient reasons to not give full weight to the opinions of two of Plaintiff's treating physicians (Dr. Reinhart and Dr. Feinstein), 3) that the opinion of the ALJ lacks sufficient specificity; and 4) the ALJ erred in denying Plaintiff's request for subpoenas as to certain examining or non-examining physicians. The Court will address each claim of error in turn.

         I. Review of ALJ Decision

         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).

         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). On the other hand, the Court “may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Id. (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).

         II. Claims of Error on Appeal

         A. Plaintiff's Symptom Testimony

         The parties agree that (under Ninth Circuit precedent), because the ALJ did not find evidence of malingering, the ALJ was required to give clear and convincing reasons to not credit Plaintiff's symptom testimony. (Doc. 25 at 11 (albeit arguing that Ninth Circuit precedent is inconsistent with federal law); Doc. 18 at 22). The ALJ dedicated multiple pages of the opinion to why he did not find Plaintiffs symptom testimony credible, linking particular testimony to particular discrediting other evidence of record. On appeal, Plaintiff acknowledges that the ALJ “advanced several rationales for finding symptom testimony not credible, ” but nonetheless argues that none of the rationales are sufficient to be clear and convincing. (Doc. 18 at 23).

         By way of example, in one paragraph of his opinion, the ALJ found the following: Claimant testified he had back pain, which was always present, and neck pain that woke him up at night, and that on a typical day he lied down 8 to 16 times per day adding up to a couple of hours per day. (Doc. 12-3 at 25).[1] The ALJ found this testimony inconsistent with third-party testimony, Claimant's own testimony, and the medical evidence; specifically:

• Claimant's mother's testimony that claimant could prepare his own meals, perform chores (like cleaning his room and bathroom), taking out the garbage, loading and unloading the dishwasher, loading the laundry, and picking up after the dog.
• Claimant's mother's testimony that claimant had no issues with personal care.
• Claimant's testimony that he runs errands, including grocery shopping, shopping with his father, and ...

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