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Wright v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 19, 2013

MIDIA LAJEAN WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

ANDREW J. WISTRICH, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.

Administrative Proceedings

Plaintiff, then aged 46, filed her application for SSI benefits on October 1, 2009, alleging that she became disabled on that same day. [JS 2; Administrative Record ("AR") 99-105]. In a written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter, an administrative law judge (the "ALJ") found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of light work. [AR 28]. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff's RFC precluded her from performing her past relevant work as a care provider, but did not preclude her from performing alternative jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a small products assembler, cleaner/housekeeper, or cafeteria attendant. [AR 30]. Therefore, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled at any time through the date of her decision. [AR 31].

Standard of Review

The Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin. , 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Barnhart , 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bayliss v. Barnhart , 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). "It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court is required to review the record as a whole and to consider evidence detracting from the decision as well as evidence supporting the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel , 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas , 278 F.3d at 954 (citing Morgan v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin. , 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999)).

Statement of Disputed Issues

The disputed issues are whether the ALJ: (1) properly considered the relevant medical evidence of record; and (2) properly considered plaintiff's subjective complaints and assessed her credibility. [JS 3].

Discussion

Medical evidence

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider the relevant medical evidence of record. [JS 4-5].

The ALJ reviewed plaintiff's treatment records from Arrowhead Regional Medical Center covering the period from June 5, 2009 through March 21, 2011. These were the only treatment reports in the record. [AR 29; see AR 153-182, 190-197, 204-240]. The ALJ discussed plaintiff's diagnosis of diabetes mellitus and her treatment for that condition, which initially involved oral medications that poorly controlled her blood glucose levels. The ALJ noted that plaintiff was later put on insulin, which improved her glycemic control. The ALJ also discussed plaintiff's neuropathic pain in her feet and observed that Neurontin provided "some benefit." [AR 29]. The ALJ mentioned plaintiff's complaints of blurred vision, which was attributed to a history of right eye trauma during plaintiff's teenage years. Finally, the ALJ remarked that plaintiff's laboratory studies were reactive for hepatitis C, but an October 29, 2009 ultrasound revealed no liver abnormalities. [AR 29].

The ALJ also reviewed the nonexamining state agency medical consultant assessments and said that she gave "great weight" to their assessments. [AR 29]. Based on the medical evidence as a whole, the ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of diabetes mellitus and hepatitis C, but that those impairments did not preclude her from performing the full range of light work. [AR28].

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's review of the medical evidence "minimized" her hepatitis C infection, but the ALJ found that plaintiff's diabetes and hepatitis C were severe and restricted her no more than light work. Plaintiff does not cite any evidence suggesting that her "severely elevated" viral load or the finding of an enlarged liver [AR 161] warranted any greater restrictions. At least one diagnostic test contradicts plaintiff's assertion. An abdominal ultrasound was conducted in October 2009 in response to "abnormal liver function tests, " and the size and condition of ...


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