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Christine Gardner Smith v. Carolyn W. Colvin

March 18, 2013


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") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from July 2, 2007, through the date of the final administrative decision. (Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. No. 15.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion, as well as a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Opp'n, Dkt. No. 16.) For the reasons that follow, the court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, grants the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and enters judgment for the Commissioner.


Plaintiff worked as a hearing specialist for ten years and as a supervisor for hearing specialists for eight years.*fn2 (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 36, 37, 122.) Plaintiff was born on March 29, 1951, and completed two years of college. (AT 36, 122.) On September 18, 2008, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that she was unable to work as of July 2, 2007, primarily due to migraine headaches. (AT 60, 122.) On February 19, 2009, the Commissioner determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (AT 60, 65.) Following plaintiff's request for reconsideration, the agency affirmed the determination on June 12, 2009. (AT 64, 76.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and a hearing occurred on March 16, 2010. (AT 32.)

In a decision dated May 27, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from July 2, 2007, through the date of the decision. (AT 20.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on September 14, 2011. (AT 3.) On November 16, 2011, plaintiff filed this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Compl., Dkt. No. 2.)


Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly discredited plaintiff's testimony regarding her symptoms and functional limitations. (Mot. for Summ. J. at 7-14.) Specifically, plaintiff contends that "the assertion of the ALJ that [plaintiff's] testimony is not credible because it is inconsistent with the objective medical evidence" is legally insufficient (id. at 8), that "the ALJ failed to articulate any rationale sufficient to demonstrate [plaintiff] was anything other than credible" (id. at 9), and that the ALJ failed to "consider [plaintiff's] 30 year work history in evaluating her credibility contrary to the Commissioner's binding ruling and regulations" (id. at 10).


The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether: (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).


A. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.*fn3 At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 2, 2007, the alleged onset date. (AT 22.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: migraine headaches; obesity; gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"); sleep apnea; osteoporosis; glaucoma; and spastic colon. (AT 22.) At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 23.)

Before proceeding to step four, after considering the entire record, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's RFC as follows:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except: she can lift, carry, push, and/or pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; she can stand and/or walk for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; she can sit for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; ...

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