United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
JASON N. LESTER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Jeremiah C. Lynch, United States Magistrate Judge.
Jason Lester 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 under Title II of the Social Security Act
(the Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Lester alleges
disability since July 10, 2010. His application was denied
initially and on reconsideration, and he requested a hearing
which took place on July 9, 2014. Lester appeared with
counsel at his hearing, and on November 6, 2014, the ALJ
issued a decision finding that Lester was not disabled within
the meaning of the Act. The Appeals Council denied
Lester's subsequent 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).
was 42 years old at the time of his alleged onset date, and
47 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 Lester met the insured status
requirements of the Act through June 30, 2014, and had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period
from his alleged onset date through his date last insured. At
step two, the ALJ found that Lester had the following severe
impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, status
post-multiple knee injuries with osteoarthritis,
polyarthritis, status post-left shoulder injuries, bilateral
carpal tunnel syndrome status post release surgeries,
depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD). The ALJ concluded at step three that Lester did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled any impairment described in the Listing of
Impairments. The ALJ also found that while Lester's
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms, his testimony as to the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of those symptoms was not entirely credible.
The ALJ found that Lester could perform a range of light
work, and that there were jobs in significant numbers in the
national economy that he could perform, including light work
as a general office clerk or shipping order clerk, and
sedentary work as information clerk.
argues the ALJ did not provide sufficiently clear and
convincing reasons for discrediting his testimony. The Court
determine whether a claimant's testimony regarding
subjective pain or symptoms is credible, an ALJ must engage
in a two-step analysis.” Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007).
At the first step, “the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an
underlying impairment which could reasonably be expected to
produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.”
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1036 (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted). Where, as here, the ALJ finds
the claimant has met this evidentiary threshold and
“there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ can
reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of her
symptoms only by offering specific, clear and convincing
reasons for doing so.” Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d
at 1036. “General findings are insufficient; rather,
the ALJ must identify what testimony is not credible and what
evidence undermines the claimant's complaints.”
Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 493
(9th Cir. 2015). The ALJ's findings
“‘must be sufficiently specific to ...