United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
GREGORY J. MERGENTHALER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge.
Gregory Mergenthaler 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, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Mergenthaler
alleges disability since May 7, 2009. Mergenthaler's
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, and he
requested an administrative hearing. On December 23, 2015,
the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a decision finding
Mergenthaler not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The
Appeals Council denied Mergenthaler'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).
was 44 years old at the time of his alleged onset date, and
50 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).
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 Mergenthaler last met the insured
status requirements of the Act on September 30, 2011, and had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged
onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Mergenthaler had
the following severe impairments: tachycardia with syncope,
depression, and post traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”). The ALJ concluded at step three that
Mergenthaler 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 Mergenthaler's impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause the alleged symptoms, his statements
regarding the severity of those symptoms were not entirely
credible. The ALJ concluded that Mergenthaler had the
residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of
medium work. Based on that residual functional capacity
assessment, the ALJ found at step four that Mergenthaler
could perform past relevant work as a bulk fuel dispatcher.
Alternatively, the ALJ found at step five that Mergenthaler
was not disabled because there were a significant number of
jobs in the national economy that he was capable of
performing, including light work as a general office clerk or
shipping order clerk, and medium work as a hand packager.
(Doc. 6, at 23-35).
first contends the ALJ erred by not giving more weight to the
opinion of his treating psychologist, Dr. Julie Hergenrather.
The weight given a treating physician's opinion depends
on whether it is supported by sufficient medical data and is
consistent with other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(d)(2). An ALJ may reject the uncontradicted
opinion of a treating physician only for clear and convincing
reasons. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th
Cir. 1995). To discount the controverted opinion of a