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Klick v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 20, 2018

Alicia Klick, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Claimant Alicia Jeanne Klick's appeal of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) decision to deny disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Doc. 16). For the following reasons, the Court affirms the denial of benefits.


         Alicia Klick filed for disability benefits on April 2, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of May 16, 2011. Ms. Klick's application for SSA disability benefits asserts traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, and an eye and sleep diagnosis. (Tr. 125). Her claim was denied on November 20, 2013; reconsideration was denied on June 16, 2014. (Tr. 170-78; 184-91). Ms. Klick requested a hearing from an administrative law judge (ALJ), which was held on September 24, 2015. The ALJ determined that Ms. Klick had the following severe impairments: traumatic brain injury and hearing impairment. (Tr. 21). The ALJ found that Ms. Klick had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. But, the ALJ assessed multiple non-exertional limitations, including: need for hearing aids, need to work in a quiet environment, moderate limitations on the ability to remember and carry out detailed instructions, moderate limitations on the ability to maintain attention and concentration, moderate limitations on the ability to perform work at a consistent pace, moderate limitations on the ability to interact with the general public and to get along with coworker, and other similar limitations. (Tr. 24). The ALJ found that, even with these restrictions, Ms. Klick could perform the work she had done in the past, namely working as a case manager or a nanny. (Tr. 33). The ALJ also concluded that Ms. Klick could perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 34). As such, the ALJ determined that Ms. Klick was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. The Appeals Council denied the request to review, making the Commissioner's decision final. (Tr. 1-4). Ms. Klick now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         I. Legal Standard

         A reviewing federal court will address only the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n. 13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits when that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). It is “relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). When evidence is “subject to more than one rational interpretation, [courts] must defer to the ALJ's conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in 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) (citations omitted).

         II. Analysis

         Claimant alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) discounting the examining psychologist's opinion and (2) rejecting the Claimant's credibility and symptom testimony.

         A. Evaluation of Medical Evidence

         Claimant states that “[a]s an initial matter, Klick disagrees with the ALJ's assignment of weight to all medical opinions in this case . . . [h]owever, in the interest of streamlining Klick's complex constellation of medical issues and assessments, Klick focuses on the ALJ's error with regard to examining psychologist Brent Geary, Ph.D.” (Doc. 16, p. 17). Claimant did list all the providers' whose opinions were discounted by the ALJ while detailing the medical evidence in the case. (Doc. 16, pp. 11-12). But that is not sufficient. Each of Claimant's contentions “must be supported by specific reference to the portion of the record relied upon and by citations to statutes, regulations, and cases supporting [Claimant's] position.” L.R. Civ. 16.1(a)(4). Each of the providers' opinions were different in nature, length, and character, and the ALJ evaluated each independently. The Court and the Commissioner cannot do guesswork to determine how Claimant thinks the ALJ erred in evaluating multiple providers' opinions. See Lewis, 236 F.3d at 517 n. 13 (noting that courts will not address issues not raised by the Claimant on appeal). Therefore, the Court finds that Claimant has waived her arguments as to all providers who are not discussed with specificity.

         Dr. Geary performed a consultative examination of Claimant on September 11, 2015. (Tr. 1417-27). Dr. Geary met with Claimant, observed her behavior, discussed her routine and habits, and reviewed some past psychological evaluations. Dr. Geary also administered a number of evaluations. Claimant scored a 30 out of 30 on the mini mental status exam. (Tr. 1418). Claimant was found to have a full scale IQ of 85. (Tr. 1421). Dr. Geary further opined that Claimant's score was “decreased significantly by the low Working Memory and Processing Speed Indexes. . . . [and] [i]t appears likely that Alicia's true intellectual abilities are represented by the Verbal Comprehension [96] and Perceptual Reasoning [96] Indexes, both in the average range.” Id. Dr. Geary also assessed Claimant's memory, finding that she was “at the top of the low average range” but that she had “significant weakness in long-term memorial functioning.” Id. Claimant scored a 26 out of 30 on the Logical Memory Recognition items, 34 out of 40 on the Verbal Paired Associates Recognition, 5 out of 7 on Visual Reproduction Recognition, and 20 out of 20 on Designs Recognition. (Tr. 1421-22). Dr. Geary stated that these “values are well within normal limits.” (Tr. 1422). On the Trail Making Test, Dr. Geary noted that both of Claimant's “performances far exceed normal limits.” Id. On the Rey Test, Claimant's performance resulted in a “normal range finding.” Id. Claimant did not believe she was affected by depression. Id. And a personality inventory resulted in “a valid profile” and Claimant “seemingly responded to inventory items in an open and reasonable manner.” Id. Dr. Geary then opined that Claimant meets the criteria for Listing Impairments 12.02 and 12.06 and that the “psychological prognosis in this case is poor.” (Tr. 1423).

         The ALJ gave Dr. Geary's opinion minimal weight. (Tr. 28). The ALJ noted that Dr. Geary's opinion contained inconsistencies: many of the tests Dr. Geary administered resulted in normal findings, but Dr. Geary also opined that Claimant met two Listing Impairments. Id. The ALJ also noted that some of Dr. Geary's statements about Claimant's disability were opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner. Id. Claimant asserts that the ALJ erred in assigning only minimal weight to Dr. Geary's report. First, Claimant argues that the ALJ's finding that Dr. Geary's examination was largely normal is contradicted by some of Dr. Geary's findings that Claimant had limitations. Dr. Geary's report contained both findings of normal testing and some limitations. Internal inconsistencies in physician's reports constitute relevant evidence, and the ALJ has the responsibility to determine whether inconsistencies are material and are relevant. Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 603 (9th Cir. 1999). The ALJ did not err in evaluating the inconsistencies in Dr. Geary's report and finding them relevant. Second, the Claimant argues that the ALJ erred by failing to specify ...

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