United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
BELINDA D. ERICKSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATION
JEREMIAH C. LYNCH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Belinda Erickson brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) seeking judicial review of the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Erickson
alleges disability since August 17, 2012, when she fell and
injured herself while walking across a parking lot.
Erickson's claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration, and she requested an administrative hearing.
In November 27, 2015, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
issued a decision finding Erickson not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. The Appeals Council denied Erickson'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 47 years old at the time of her 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 Erickson meets the insured status
requirements of the Act through December 31, 2019. The ALJ
further found that although Erickson alleged a disability
onset date of August 17, 2012, she would be ineligible for
benefits until the start of 2014 because she had engaged in
substantial gainful activity through the years 2012 and 2013.
At step two, the ALJ found that Erickson's lumbar
degenerative disc disease and obesity were severe
impairments. The ALJ concluded at step three that Erickson
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled any impairment described in the
Listing of Impairments. The ALJ further found that while
Erickson's impairments could reasonably be expected to
cause her alleged symptoms, her statements regarding the
severity of those symptoms were not entirely credible. The
ALJ concluded that Erickson had the residual functional
capacity to perform a reduced range of light work. Based on
that residual functional capacity assessment, the ALJ found
at step four that Erickson could perform past relevant work
as a customer service representative and office clerk.
Because Erickson could perform past relevant work, the ALJ
concluded that she was not disabled within the meaning of the
Act. (Doc. 4-2, at 20-32).
argues the ALJ's finding that she has the residual
functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work
is not supported by substantial evidence, and raises four
issues on appeal. First, Erickson maintains the ALJ did not
provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the opinion
of her treating and examining physicians. Second, Erickson
contends the ALJ did not provide clear and convincing reasons
for discounting her subjective testimony. Third, Erickson
argues the ALJ did not provide germane reasons for
discounting a lay witness statement provided by her husband.
Finally, Erickson maintains the ALJ erred by finding her
capable of performing past relevant work.