United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge.
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.
was 32 years old at the time of his alleged onset date, and
48 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision.
Standard of Review
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).
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).
Burden of Proof
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)).
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. §
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).
argues the ALJ did not provide sufficiently clear and
convincing reasons for finding his subjective testimony only
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 ...