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Jeffries v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 15, 2017

Lori Ann Jeffries, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          David K. Duncan United States Magistrate Judge

         Lorie Ann Jeffries[1] appeals from the denial of her application for benefits by the Social Security Administration and argues that the ALJ should not have rejected the opinion rendered by her treating physician and did not provide sufficient reasons for rejecting her symptom testimony. (Doc. 16)

         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and, with the parties' consent to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 14) Because the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err, the Court will uphold the denial of benefits.

         Standard of Review

         This court must affirm the ALJ's findings if they are supported by substantial evidence and are free from reversible error. Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it 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). In determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1988). The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts, ambiguity, and determining credibility. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If there is sufficient evidence to support the ALJ's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. See Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).

         Thus, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision where the evidence considered in its entirety substantially supports it and the decision is free from reversible error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). The Court must do more than merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision. Winans v. Bowen, 853 F.2d 643, 645 (9th Cir. 1988). However, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 750.


         Jeffries was 46 years old on the alleged onset date, November 20, 2012. Jeffries has a 10th grade education and past relevant work was as a cashier and cashier supervisor. (Tr. 21, 37, 52)

         The ALJ decision followed the requisite five step process. (Tr. 21-27) The ALJ found that Jeffries had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (Tr. 23) Next, the ALJ found that Jeffries had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and dysfunction of major joints. (Tr. 23) However, these impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of any listed impairments. (Tr. 23)

         The ALJ found that several factors in the record weighed against Jeffries' credibility about the severity of her symptoms and her inability to work. (Tr. 25) The ALJ then noted that her testimony about the effect of pain medications was not consistent with her medical record. (Tr. 25) The ALJ then noted that Jeffries' medical treatment has included steroid injections, “some physical therapy, ” and pain management with medication. (Tr. 25) The ALJ also noted that Jeffries' x-rays of her lumbar spine showed minimal levoscoliosis of the lower lumbar spine with minimal spondylosis and probable facet arthrosis, as well as arteriosclerotic vascular disease. Further, x-rays of her cervical spine were unremarkable. Finally, the ALJ decision noted that the medical record referred to a MRI that predated the alleged onset date and indicated cervical spine issues. (Tr. 25)

         The ALJ then described the various medical opinions about Jeffries' ability to perform work related tasks and concluded that Jeffries could perform light work subject to additional limitations. (Tr. 24-26) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Jeffries was capable of performing her past relevant work and, therefore, did not meet the Social Security Act's definition of disability. (Tr. 27)


         Jeffries' Testimony. Jeffries argues that the ALJ rejected her symptom testimony without providing the necessary specific, clear, and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 16 at 16)

         Testimony. At the hearing, Jeffries testified about her symptoms. (Tr. 38-45, 48, 49) She stated that she had constant pain in her neck and hands and that the pain extends to her neck and face. She stated that her face pain is so severe that she can hardly eat. She stated that she also experienced lower back pain and that injections for her lower back had increased her symptoms. She said that she took pain medication every day and the medication made her feel tired and forgetful and did not work on her ...

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