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Osterloh v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 29, 2018

Gregory F Osterloh, 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 social security disability benefits.

         I. Review of Administrative Law Judge's Decision

         The Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) 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).

         II. Claims of Error on Appeal

         Although Plaintiff purports to have four claims of error on appeal, within his brief he raises various sub-arguments. The Court has attempted to discern the exact claims Plaintiff is bringing and the headings below reflect what the Court believes to be the claims.

         A. Plaintiff's Treatment Records

         Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in “finding that Plaintiff's psychological treatment was inadequate in light of the severity of his condition.” (Doc. 20 at 3). However, the ALJ did not make this finding. Instead, the ALJ found, “The claimant has not generally received the type of psychiatric treatment one would expect if the limitations imposed by the claimant's impairments were as broad and limiting as the claimant alleges.” (Doc. 15-3 at 28).[1]

         Thus, the ALJ was not making a medical determination that the Plaintiff had inadequate treatment. Instead, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's claimed symptoms were inconsistent with Plaintiff's known treatment history; thereby calling into question the veracity of Plaintiff's symptom testimony.[2] Failing to seek treatment is a valid reason to discredit Plaintiff's symptom testimony. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, the Court finds no error regarding the ALJ's observations about Plaintiff's treatment history.

         B. Thoroughness of the ALJ's Decision

          Plaintiff claims the ALJ's decision was inadequate because it was boilerplate and arbitrary. (Doc. 20 at 3). More specifically, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ did not adequately explain why Plaintiff's routine and conservative treatment since October of 2012 for his claimed psychological disorders diminished Plaintiff's credibility. However, in the decision, the ALJ spent an entire paragraph discussing why Plaintiff's treatment history was inconsistent with the severity of the disability he claims to have. (Doc. 15-3 at 28). This paragraph was specific to ...

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