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Miller v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 6, 2018

Renee Lee Miller, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          G. MURRAY SNOW CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is claimant Renee Lee Miller'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 upholds the ALJ's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 25, 2013, Ms. Miller filed a claim for disability insurance benefits. She subsequently filed a claim for supplemental security income on April 9, 2014. She alleged that she suffers from various mental impairments, including epilepsy, as a result of a successfully removed brain tumor. (Tr. 34). Ms. Miller alleges a disability onset date of January 1, 2007. The claim was denied on initial review and reconsideration. (Tr. 73- 74; 111-12). Ms. Miller appeared before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Myriam C. Fernandez Rice on January 7, 2015. (Tr. 31). In evaluating whether Ms. Miller was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] (Tr. 32-33).

         At step one, the ALJ found that Ms. Miller had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 1, 2007. (Tr. 34). At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Miller suffers from post-surgical removal of a brain tumor and associated continued seizure disorder; as well as depression, anxiety, and neurocognitive disorder. (Tr. 34). At step three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Miller's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed impairment in the regulations. (Tr. 34-36). At step four, the ALJ determined Ms. Miller's residual functional capacity and found that she could perform work at all exertional levels, but with various non-exertional exceptions, such as never climbing ladders, no exposure to unprotected heights or moving machinery, and no driving. (Tr. 37). Other non-exertional limitations include performing only simple, routine, repetitive tasks and limited interaction with the public. (Tr. 37). As part of this analysis, the ALJ considered the opinion testimony of treating physicians at Banner Desert Medical Center and various consultative examining physicians and reviewing physicians. (Tr. 40-41). The ALJ then determined that Ms. Miller is not capable of performing her past relevant work as a receptionist, telemarketer, or stock clerk, but she could perform work that is available in the national economy, such as kitchen helper, industrial cleaner, and automobile detailer. (Tr. 42). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. Miller does not qualify for disability benefits. (Tr. 44).

         The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Ms. Miller's request for review. (Tr. 1). She filed this complaint on August 10, 2017 to seek judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         A reviewing federal court will only address 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 only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). 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 the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one rational interpretation, we 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). A reviewing court may draw specific and legitimate inferences from an ALJ's decision, but it cannot speculate on the ALJ's reasoning or make “post hoc rationalizations that attempt to intuit what the adjudicator may have been thinking.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 554 F.3d 1219, 1225 (9th Cir. 2009).

         II. Analysis

         Claimant presents two arguments: (1) the ALJ improperly discounted her allegations, and (2) the ALJ failed to consider the entire record in formulating her residual functional capacity.

         A. Claimant's Credibility Concerning Subjective Symptoms

         When a claimant alleges subjective symptoms, the ALJ must follow a two-step analysis to decide whether to credit the claimant's testimony. First, the claimant “must produce objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 344 (9th Cir. 1991)) (quotation marks omitted). The claimant does not need to show “that her impairment could reasonably be expected to cause the severity of the symptom she has alleged; she need only show that it could reasonably have caused some degree of the symptom.” Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1282. Second, if the claimant can make the showing required in the first step and the ALJ does not find any evidence of malingering, “the ALJ can reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of her symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so.” Id. at 1281.

         The ALJ found that Claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably cause the alleged symptoms, but that the record did not support Claimant's allegations concerning the intensity and limiting effects of her condition. (Tr. 38). The ALJ generally discredited Claimant because she successfully managed seizures by taking Keppra and Lamictal, and she managed anxiety with Xanax; the objective medical evidence and medical record indicate that Claimant went through months at a time without suffering a seizure; Claimant's daily activities, such as driving, caring for her children, working for her sister-in-law's business, and attending family functions, are inconsistent with the alleged limitations; and otherwise minimal evidence to support ...


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