United States District Court, D. Arizona
Douglas L. Rayes, United States District Judge.
Darlene Stewart seeks judicial review of the Social Security
Administration’s decision to deny her application for
disability insurance benefits. Stewart applied for benefits
in October 2013, alleging that she became unable to work on
May 31, 2013, because of the effects of various impairments,
including fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety. (AR 39.)
Stewart argues that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) failed to adequately account for the
effects of her stress and anxiety. (Doc. 12.)
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
and reviews only those issues raised by the party challenging
the ALJ’s decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236
F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). The ALJ’s
determination will be upheld unless it contains harmful legal
error or is not supported by substantial evidence. Orn v.
Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Having
reviewed the parties’ briefs and the administrative
record, the Court affirms.
ALJ did not err by adopting the opinion of examining
psychologist Dr. Douglas Smyth. During the initial hearing on
Stewart’s disability insurance application, Stewart
testified that she had anxiety and depression, which affected
her concentration, memory, and mood. (AR 93-98.) Because the
record lacked evidence of corroborating mental health
treatment, the ALJ ordered a psychological examination.
(Id. at 111-12.) Dr. Smyth evaluated Stewart in
October 2016 and diagnosed her with somatic symptom disorder,
unspecified anxiety disorder, and unspecified depressive
disorder. (Id. at 609-15.) He opined that Stewart is
mildly limited in understanding and remembering complex
instructions, carrying out simple instructions, making
judgments on complex work-related decisions, interacting
appropriately with co-workers, and responding appropriately
to usual work situations and changes in a routine work
setting. (Id. at 606-608.) Dr. Smyth also opined
that Stewart is moderately limited in her ability to interact
with supervisors. (Id.) The ALJ adopted Dr.
Smyth’s opinions, finding Stewart mildly limited in her
ability to understand, remember, and apply information;
maintain concentration, persistence, and pace; and adapt and
manage herself. (Id. at 44.) The ALJ also found
Stewart moderately limited in her ability to get along with
supervisors and accordingly limited her to only occasional
interaction with supervisors. (Id. at 44-45.)
argues the ALJ erred by failing to acknowledge “the
overall tone and implication” of Dr. Smyth’s
report, which (in Stewart’s view) indicates that her
anxiety is more limiting. (Doc. 12 at 6.) But if Dr. Smyth
believed Stewart’s anxiety more significantly impacted
her ability to function, he could and should have stated so.
The ALJ was not required to intuit some implied meaning and
did not err by adopting the opinions Dr. Smyth actually gave.
To the extent Stewart argues Dr. Smyth’s report is
ambiguous because of a perceived incongruity between his
“tone” and his stated opinions, the ALJ is
responsible for resolving such ambiguities and the Court must
uphold the ALJ’s interpretation where, as here, it is a
rational one. See Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676,
679 (9th Cir. 2005).
ALJ provided the requisite clear and convincing reasons,
supported by substantial evidence, for discounting
Stewart’s testimony concerning the severity of her
anxiety. See Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1281
(9th Cir. 1996).
example, the ALJ reasonably determined that Stewart’s
testimony was inconsistent with other evidence in the record.
See Bray v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554
F.3d 1219, 1227 (9th Cir. 2007). Stewart testified that her
anxiety adversely affected her memory and concentration, but
she raised this complaint with medical providers only once,
and mental status examinations with her primary care
physician repeatedly indicated normal orientation, attention
span, and concentration. (AR 49, 354, 475, 483, 486.) Stewart
claimed that she could not go anywhere without the assistance
of her husband and that her husband helps her bathe, but she
indicated to Dr. Smyth that she at least occasionally lives
apart from her husband and that she could bathe
independently. (Id. at 272, 274, 612.) Stewart also
reported that she could not wash dishes or load a dishwasher,
but her husband stated that Stewart could perform these
tasks. (Id. at 294, 612.) The ALJ reasonably
determined that these contradictions raised doubts about the
overall reliability of Stewart’s testimony.
Orn, 495 F.3d at 636 (noting that, when determining
what weight to give a claimant’s testimony, the ALJ may
consider factors such as “inconsistencies in testimony
or between testimony and conduct”).
also reasonably determined that Stewart’s ability to
work notwithstanding her anxiety undermined her allegations
of disabling symptoms. Gregory v. Bowen, 844 F.2d
664, 666-67 (9th Cir. 1988) (finding that claimant’s
back problems did not render her disabled because her
condition “had remained constant for a number of
years” yet “had not prevented her from working
over that time”). Stewart alleged that she has
experienced stress and anxiety since 2000, yet she was able
to perform substantial gainful activity until 2013 and there
is no evidence that her anxiety worsened over time. (AR
68-69, 249, 270.)
Because the ALJ accounted for the symptoms of Stewart’s
anxiety that were adequately supported by the record, there
is no basis to remand for a reassessment of Stewart’s
residual functional capacity.
IS ORDERED that the final decision of the Social
Security Administration is AFFIRMED. The
Clerk of the Court shall enter ...