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Doney v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

January 6, 2015

RHONDA R. DONEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

BRIAN MORRIS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Rhonda R. Doney (Doney) initiated this action to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commisioner), denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434.

JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Venue is proper because Doney resides in Blaine County, Montana. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1); L.R. 1.2(c)(3).

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Doney applied for Social Security disability benefits on November 2, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of September 24, 2009. (Tr. 147-148). The Social Security Administration denied her claim on April 6, 2011. (Tr. 99-101). Doney requested reconsideration. (Tr. 102). Reconsideration was denied on June 10, 2011, following an independent review by a physician and a disability examiner. (Tr. 104-105).

Doney requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 109-110). The ALJ held a hearing on July 12, 2012. (Tr. 28-73). The ALJ determined that Doney did not qualify for disability benefits because she was capable of performing her prior work as a teacher, despite her impairments. (Tr. 13-23). Doney appealed to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council (Council). (Tr. 9). The Council denied review on November 25, 2013. The Council's denial made the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review. (Tr. 3-5; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481).

Doney instituted the present action on January 9, 2014. The Court referred the case to United States Magistrate Judge Keith Strong for findings and recommendations. Judge Strong entered his findings and recommendation on October 21, 2014. He recommended that the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be granted, and that Doney's motion for summary judgment be denied. (Doc. 19). Doney timely filed objections on October 29, 2014. (Doc. 20).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court reviews de novo findings and recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court reviews for clear error all other findings and recommendations. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981).

DISCUSSION

Judge Strong concluded that the ALJ's determination should be affirmed because it was supported by substantial evidence and was not based on legal error. (Doc. 19 at 19). Doney claims that Judge Strong's findings should be rejected because the ALJ made numerous legal errors: 1) the ALJ discounted her testimony regarding her limitations without adequate explanation; 2) the ALJ discounted the findings and opinions of her treating physician, Dr. Gregory Tierney, without adequate explanation; 3) the ALJ discounted the findings and opinions of her occupational therapist, Deb Ammondson, without adequate explanation; 4) the ALJ failed to include limitations described by Ms. Ammondson in a hypothetical question posed to the vocational consultant; 5) the ALJ failed to develop adequately the record regarding her ability to perform past work; 6) the ALJ failed to find that her anxiety constituted a severe impairment; and 7) the ALJ failed to find that her impairments satisfied the Listing of Impairments.

A. Plaintiff's Testimony Regarding Her Limitations

Doney claims the ALJ failed to explain adequately why he found her testimony regarding her limitations to be lacking in credibility. (Doc. 20 at 2-8). An ALJ's credibility findings "must be sufficiently specific to allow a reviewing court to conclude that the adjudicator rejected the claimant's testimony on ...


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