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Reynolds v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 23, 2017

ANGELA S. REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CRAIG M KELLISON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, who is proceeding with retained counsel, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Pursuant to the written consent of all parties, this case is before the undersigned as the presiding judge for all purposes, including entry of final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 16) and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. 17).

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for social security benefits on October 11, 2011. In the application, plaintiff claims that disability began on April 2, 2010. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied. Following denial of reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on February 4, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Sharon L. Madsen. In a April 18, 2014, decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled based on the following relevant findings:

         1. The claimant has the following severe impairment(s): cervical spondylosis and asthma;

         2. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed in the regulations;

         3. The claimant has the following residual functional capacity: the claimant can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for 6 to 8 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit for 6 to 8 hours in an 8-hour workday; she can occasionally climb, crawl, and reach overhead; she can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch, she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she must avoid concentrated exposure to dusts, gases, and fumes; and

         4. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, residual functional capacity, and vocational expert testimony, the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a hotel clerk, reservation clerk, and medical records clerk.

         After the Appeals Council declined review on March 15, 2016, this appeal followed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court reviews the Commissioner's final decision to determine whether it is: (1) based on proper legal standards; and (2) supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). “Substantial evidence” is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521 (9th Cir. 1996). It is “. . . such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971). The record as a whole, including both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, must be considered and weighed. See Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1487 (9th Cir. 1986); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). The court may not affirm the Commissioner's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a particular finding, the finding of the Commissioner is conclusive. See Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987). Therefore, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be affirmed, see Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence, see Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly rejected her testimony as not credible. The Commissioner determines whether a disability applicant is credible, and the court defers to the Commissioner's discretion if the Commissioner used the proper process and provided proper reasons. See Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 522 (9th Cir. 1996). An explicit credibility finding must be supported by specific, cogent reasons. See Rashad v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1229, 1231 (9th Cir. 1990). General findings are insufficient. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1995). Rather, the Commissioner must identify what testimony is not credible and what evidence undermines the testimony. See id. Moreover, unless there is affirmative evidence in the record of malingering, the Commissioner's reasons for rejecting testimony as not credible must be “clear and convincing.” See id.; see also Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1160 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Lingenfelter v Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1936 (9th Cir. 2007), and Gregor v. Barnhart, 464 F.3d 968, 972 (9th Cir. 2006)).

         If there is objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment, the Commissioner may not discredit a claimant's testimony as to the severity of symptoms merely because they are unsupported by objective medical evidence. See Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, ...


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