The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. (the "Act").*fn1 In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by: (1) failing to accurately characterize the medical evidence and credit the opinions of the treating and examining physicians and psychologists without a legally adequate reason for doing so; (2) rejecting the statements of plaintiff and third parties regarding his functional limitations without clear and convincing reasons for doing so; and (3) failing to properly assess plaintiff's residual functional capacity and properly credit the testimony of the vocational expert. (Dkt. No. 22 at 1.) The Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 26.)
After careful consideration of the entire record, the arguments presented and for the reasons stated below, the court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.
On April 18, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on October 22, 2004. (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 16, 50.) The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AT 16.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing, and the ALJ conducted a hearing on August 22, 2007 (AT 16.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at the hearing. (AT 16.) Additionally, a vocational expert and plaintiff's mother testified at the hearing. (AT 16.)
In a decision dated November 27, 2007, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application. (AT 16-23.) The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels in jobs that required only simple instructions, and therefore was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act.*fn2 (See AT 19.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 4-6.)
B. Summary of Relevant Medical History and Evidence
The facts of the case are set forth in detail in the transcript of proceedings, and are briefly summarized here. At the time of his hearing before the ALJ, plaintiff was 20 years old. (AT 22.) Plaintiff has been diagnosed in the past with Asperger's syndrome and/or high-functioning autism.*fn3 The ALJ found, albeit somewhat reluctantly, that plaintiff's autism is The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has summarized the sequential evaluation as follows:
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
Step two: Does the claimant have a "severe" impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.1? If so, the claimant is automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995).
The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5. The Commissioner bears the burden if the sequential evaluation process proceeds to step five. Id.
I find little evidence of a severe disorder and generally concur with the finding of the State nonexamining DDS medical consultant that the claimant has no medically determinable mental impairment (Exhibit 5F). However, I find that the claimant is entitled to the benefit of the doubt that he has some limitations due to very mild and high functioning autism. Accordingly, I find that the claimant's autism is severe. (AT 18.)
While in middle school, plaintiff received a variety of psychoeducational evaluations and assessments. (AT 415-17). One evaluation revealed that plaintiff met the criteria for special education because he was classified as "Emotionally Disturbed." (AT 416.) Thereafter, he was seen on an outpatient basis for mental health treatment and medication at the Shasta County Community Mental Health Center. (AT 417.) Plaintiff received a medical evaluation in October 2004 by Dr. Lisa Benaron, M.D. (AT 448.) She concluded that plaintiff qualified for the ...