United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT INTRODUCTION
GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Teri Lynne Preheim ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The matter is pending before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.
SUMMARY OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning on April 29, 2010. AR 20; 156. Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 102-105; 107-111. Subsequently, on June 18, 2012, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's claim. AR 36-71. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified at the hearing; a vocational expert also appeared and testified. AR 36-71. On July 20, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 20-31. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-2. Plaintiff then commenced this action in District Court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is supported by substantial evidence and (2) it applies the correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007).
"Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). It is "relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. 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." Id. The ALJ's findings will be upheld "if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record." Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
ISSUES PRESENTED FOR REVIEW
Plaintiff argues that the Court should reverse the Commissioner's determination and order the payment of benefits, or, alternatively, remand for further proceedings, because (1) the ALJ did not provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrists, Drs. Griffith and Ziyar; (2) the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence in light of the opinion of Plaintiff's treating doctor, Dr. Bradley Strong, that was submitted to the Appeals Council after issuance of the ALJ's decision; and (3) the ALJ did not give legally sufficient reasons for discounting Plaintiff's credibility with regard to her testimony at the administrative hearing. Doc. 13. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ properly evaluated the medical evidence and Plaintiff's credibility, and his decision is supported by substantial evidence. Doc. 14.
A. The ALJ's Credibility Determination
(i) Summary of Plaintiff's Testimony
On June 18, 2012, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before an ALJ and was represented by counsel. AR 36-71. Plaintiff has a high school diploma as well as vocational training as a medical assistant. AR 42. Plaintiff has a driver's license and is able to drive to the grocery store and other short distances. AR 42; 50; 63. She has not been restricted from driving by her treating doctor. AR 50. Plaintiff stopped working at her last job in medical billing because she was fired for taking too much time off when she got sick. AR 43. When asked what prevented her from working at the present time, Plaintiff responded as follows:
Right now I just - I don't feel comfortable driving. I have vertigo; and I have a real big issue with that. Even riding in the car makes me dizzy. I have issues being around other people that I don't know without somebody that I do know. I have body pain. I get chronic headaches. I'm on a load of medication to try to make me feel better. I have panic and anxiety attacks. I cry all the time. I'm just nervous always.
AR 48. Plaintiff testified that her vertigo medication made her queasy and nauseous before it calmed her down. AR 51. Plaintiff testified that medication helped control her depression when she is "severely depressed" but she still had her "ups and downs." AR 51. Plaintiff testified that medication also helped control her anxiety and panic attacks "for a little while; not as long as what they're supposed to." AR 51. Plaintiff had not been hospitalized for mental issues at any time. AR 53.
Plaintiff testified that she was in physical pain "[p]retty much all the time." AR 53. She stated she had pain "down my legs. I have it in my arms. I have it in my neck, and all through my back, and in my hips." AR 53. Plaintiff testified she could stand for 10 minutes before needing to sit down. AR 55. Plaintiff testified she could sit for "15, 20 minutes" before needing to get up. AR 55. Plaintiff had trouble lifting things, and had problems with her hands. AR 55; 56; 60. Plaintiff had trouble bending. AR 57. Plaintiff had "problems remembering things, " ...