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Price v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

June 5, 2017

RYAN SJ PRICE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Ryan Price brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, §§ 1381-1383(c). Price alleges disability since September 1, 2000, due to a schizoaffective disorder and other mental impairments. After Price's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). On June 2, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Price not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Appeals Council denied Price's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the agency's final decision for purposes of judicial review. Jurisdiction vests with this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Price was 32 years old at the time of his alleged onset date, and 48 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision.

         I. Standard of Review

         This Court's review is limited. The Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only where the decision is not supported by substantial evidence or where the decision is based on legal error. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).

         “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). This Court must uphold the Commissioner's findings “if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Batson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). “[I]f evidence exists to support more than one rational interpretation, ” the Court “must defer to the Commissioner's decision.” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193 (citing Morgan v. Commissioner, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). This Court “may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Widmark, 454 F.3d at 1070 (quoting Edlund, 253 F.3d at 1156).

         II. Burden of Proof

         To establish disability, a claimant bears “the burden of proving an ‘inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which...has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.'” Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193-94 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant bears the burden of establishing disability at steps one through four of this process. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). At the first step, the ALJ will consider whether the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(I). If not, the ALJ must determine at step two whether the claimant has any impairments that qualify as “severe” under the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the ALJ finds that the claimant does have one or more severe impairments, the ALJ will compare those impairments to the impairments listed in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If the ALJ finds at step three that the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a listed impairment, then the claimant is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(iii). If, however, the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal the severity of any impairment described in the Listing of Impairments, then the ALJ must proceed to step four and consider whether the claimant retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant establishes an inability to engage in past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to establish that the claimant can perform other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         III. Discussion

         The ALJ found at step one that Price met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2000. The ALJ further found that Price had engaged in substantial gainful activity during the first quarter of 2013, but not for 12 consecutive months before or after. (Doc. 15-2, at 20). At step two, the ALJ found that Price had the following severe impairments: schizoaffective disorder, depression, and personality disorder. (Doc. 15-2, at 20.). The ALJ concluded at step three that Price did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any impairment described in the Listing of Impairments. (Doc. 15-2, at 21). The ALJ found that Price's subjective testimony was not entirely credible, and determined that he had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with several nonexertional limitations. (Doc. 15-2, at 22). Based on that residual functional capacity assessment, the ALJ found at step four that Price could perform past relevant work as a stocker. (Doc. 15-2, at 31). The ALJ made alternative findings at step five, concluding that Price was also capable of working as a commercial cleaner, laundry worker, or document preparer. (Doc. 15-2, at 32).

         A. Credibility

         Price argues the ALJ did not provide sufficiently clear and convincing reasons for finding his subjective testimony only partially believable.

         If the ALJ finds “the claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged, ” and “there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ can reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of [those] symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Price met this initial burden because he provided evidence ...


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