United States District Court, N.D. California
DONALD R. CRAYTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT; GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT Re: Dkt. Nos. 12, 18
PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON United States District Judge
Donald R. Crayton (“Crayton”) seeks judicial
review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) decision denying his claim for
disability benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This
action is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment. Having read the parties' papers and
the administrative record, and having carefully considered
their arguments and relevant legal authority, the court
DENIES Crayton's motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the
Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision to deny
was 42 years-old when he applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits on
September 21, 2012. Administrative Record (“AR”)
191. Crayton initially alleged a disability date from June 1,
2001, which he later amended to the September 21, 2012
application date on advice of counsel. AR 39, 84. His
application was denied on initial review and again upon
reconsideration. AR 39.
hearing was conducted at Crayton's request by
Administrative Law Judge Maxine R. Benmour (the
“ALJ”) on September 25, 2014. AR 39. Crayton
appeared and testified at the hearing, represented by counsel
Jeffrey Simpson, who requested to amend the alleged onset of
disability date at the hearing. AR 39. Vocational Expert Mary
R. Ciddio (“VE”) also testified as an impartial
expert at the hearing and was questioned by both the ALJ and
Simpson. AR 80-82.
written decision dated January 29, 2015, the ALJ concluded
Crayton has not been under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act since the September 21, 2012
application and onset date. AR 52. Crayton requested a review
by the Appeals Council, which was denied in a notice dated
June 8, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. AR 1.
is a high school graduate but has engaged in no work that
could be considered substantial gainful activity. AR 62.
Crayton indicates that he was in special education in school
as he had to be “one-on-one taught.” AR 74.
Crayton was terminated from his last documented job in 2004
following an altercation with another employee and testified
that he has lost most of his positions for similar behavior.
AR 63- 64. In April and May of 2014, Crayton reported to
physicians at the ER and at a follow-up visit that he was
working as a furniture mover and experiencing shoulder pain.
AR 477, 483. In May of 2014, Crayton told his psychologist,
Dr. Maria Alvarez, that he was the primary caregiver for his
infant son and then one-year-old granddaughter. AR 481.
2012, Crayton was diagnosed as bipolar by doctors at the
California Department of Corrections and was treated with
medication. AR 309, 312. Following his release from prison in
2013, Crayton has been in the care of both a psychologist and
a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with panic disorder and
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. AR 64, 597. Crayton indicates
that he prefers to stay home, in his room, and feels anxious
about going outside. AR 64-65.
suffers from arthritis in both knees and his left shoulder.
AR 68, 70. An MRI performed on March 28, 2014 showed mild
degeneration of the left shoulder that is non-surgical. AR
483, 578. He also has diabetes, sleep apnea, and morbid
obesity. AR 428. Additionally, Crayton alleges disability due
to a history of Hodgkin's lymphoma in his adolescence,
but has not identified any functional limitations caused by
it. AR 212.
also reports nerve damage resulting in unsteady hands, but
there is no supporting medical evidence of this in the
record. AR 212.
takes medication for diabetes (Glimepiride and Metformin),
but is not insulin dependent. AR 591, 597-98. He also takes
pain medications (Gabapentin, Oxycodone and Methadone),
medication for anxiety (Alprazolam), and is prescribed
Lamotrigine for bipolar disorder. AR 597-98.
AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
Social Security Act (“the Act”) provides for the
payment of disability insurance benefits to people who have
contributed to the social security system and who suffer from
a physical or mental disability. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(a)(1). To evaluate whether a claimant is disabled
within the meaning of the Act, the ALJ is required to use a
five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a).
The ALJ may end the analysis at any step when it is
determined that the claimant is or is not disabled.
Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 504 (9th Cir.
one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has engaged in
any “substantial gainful activity, ” which would
automatically preclude the claimant receiving disability
benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If not,
at the second step, the ALJ must consider whether the
claimant suffers from a severe impairment which
“significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.”
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). The third step
requires the ALJ to compare the claimant's impairment(s)
to a listing of impairments in the regulations. If the
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets
or equals the severity of any medical condition contained in
the listing, the claimant is presumed disabled and is awarded
benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d).
claimant's condition does not meet or equal a listing,
the ALJ must proceed to the fourth step to consider whether
the claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform his past work despite the
limitations caused by the impairment. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(e)-(f). An individual's RFC is what he can
still do in a work setting despite his physical and mental
limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. In determining the
RFC, the ALJ must consider all of the claimant's
impairments, including those that are not severe, taking into
account all relevant medical and other evidence. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(e), 416.945. If the claimant cannot
perform his past work, the Commissioner is required to show,
at step five, that the claimant can perform other work that
exists in significant numbers in the national economy, taking
into consideration the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and work experience. See 20 C.F.R. §
in steps one through four, the claimant has the burden to
demonstrate a severe impairment and an inability to engage in
his previous occupation. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d
1035, 1040 (9th Cir. 1995). If the analysis proceeds to step
five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate
that the claimant can perform other work. Id.
determined Crayton has not been under a disability within the
meaning of the Act since the September 21, 2012 application
date. AR 39. Beginning at step one, Crayton had no reported
earnings since his application date of September 21, 2012.
Although Crayton told his doctor that he was working as a
furniture mover in April and May of 2014, the ALJ did not
consider this to be at substantial gainful activity levels.
AR 41. At step two, the ALJ evaluated Crayton's
impairments and determined that his diabetes, degenerative
joint disease in both knees and left shoulder, sleep apnea,
morbid obesity, and bipolar disorder were severe impairments
that more than minimally limited his ability to perform basic
work tasks. AR 42. The ALJ found that there was not severe
impairment from Crayton's history of Hodgkin's
lymphoma or self-reported nerve damage in his hands which was
not supported by medical evidence or testing. AR 42.
three, the ALJ determined that Crayton did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.,
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 42. This was determined
by comparing Crayton's impairments to the relevant
listings: listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint(s) due
to any cause); listing 3.10 (sleep-related breathing
disorders, including listing 3.02 sleep apnea); section 9.00
(endocrine disorders); listing 12.02 (neurocognitive
disorders); and listing 12.04 (depressive, bipolar, and
related disorders). AR 42-43. The ALJ found that
Crayton's impairments do not meet the standards set out
in the listings. AR 43. At all times relevant to the
decision, Crayton had a Body Mass. Index (BMI) in excess of
30, which is considered to be obese. AR 43. However, the ALJ
determined that neither the obesity alone, nor in combination
with the other impairments, is of the severity to meet or
equal the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1. AR
43. Central to the ALJ's finding that Crayton's level
of mental impairment is a mild restriction, and not a marked
limitation, was evidence that he attended to his personal
hygiene and grooming, acted as primary caretaker for his
then-infant child and one-year-old grandchild, and has
experienced no episodes of decompensation of an extended
duration. AR 43-45. The ALJ determined that Crayton is
moderately limited in social functioning due to outbursts of
anger and panic attacks, but his treatment records do not
reflect the severe isolation that Crayton describes. AR 44.
to step four, the ALJ determined that Crayton has the RFC to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(a), including the ability to lift and/or carry ten
pounds, sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and stand
and/or walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday. AR 45.
While the ALJ found Crayton's impairments could
reasonably be expected to produce the pain and symptoms he
alleged, she found his statements concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms “not
entirely credible.” AR 46. The ALJ supported her
finding with these facts: the claimant is diabetic but not
insulin dependent, suffers from sleep apnea but does not use
a CPAP machine, treatment for his degenerative joint disease
is relatively conservative and non-surgical, and doctors
describe his gait as normal. AR 46-47. Additionally, the ALJ
found that Crayton was more active than his statements at the
hearing indicated, since he told his doctor he was
“play wrestling” with his wife when he fell down
an embankment in September 2103 and working moving furniture
in April of 2014. AR 47.
also believed that Crayton's bipolar disorder was less
limiting than alleged because treatment records show that it
is controlled by medication and that he is calm, soft-spoken,
pleasant, and cooperative. AR 48. His treating physician ...