United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF SOCIAL SECURITY
KENNETH J. MANSFIELD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
case involves Plaintiff Carla Jean
Caravalho's (“Plaintiff”) appeal of the
Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of
Social Security disability insurance benefits to Plaintiff.
Plaintiff filed her Opening Brief on December 15, 2016. ECF
No. 21. Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Social Security
Commissioner (“Defendant”), filed her Answering
Brief on February 27, 2017. ECF No. 25. Plaintiff filed her
Reply Brief on March 15, 2017. ECF No. 26.
Court held a hearing on this matter on May 24, 2017. Danielle
R. Beaver, Esq. appeared on behalf of Plaintiff. Asim H.
Modi, Esq. and Edric M. Ching, Esq. appeared on behalf of
Defendant. After carefully considering the memoranda,
arguments, and the record in this case, the Court AFFIRMS the
decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff's Application for Social Security Disability
February 21, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Social
Security disability insurance benefits, alleging that she
became disabled on or about May 5, 2012. AR at
134-35. On or around September 13, 2013, the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) sent
Plaintiff a Notice of Disapproved Claim, informing Plaintiff
that she did not qualify for benefits because she was not
disabled under the SSA's rules. See Id. at
83-86. The Notice of Disapproved Claim stated that, based on
Plaintiff's records, the SSA concluded that
Plaintiff's alleged condition “was not disabling on
any date through 6/30/13, when [she was] last insured for
disability benefits.” Id. at 83.
around October 23, 2013, Plaintiff requested reconsideration
of the SSA's initial denial of disability benefits.
See Id. at 89. Plaintiff did not submit additional
evidence in connection with her request for reconsideration.
See Id. at 90. The SSA subsequently sent Plaintiff a
Notice of Reconsideration, dated January 30, 2014, denying
her request for disability benefits after reconsideration of
her claim. See Id. at 90-94. The Notice of
Reconsideration stated, “Someone who did not make the
first decision reviewed your case . . . and found that our
first decision was correct.” Id. at 90.
Plaintiff's Alleged Pain and Treatment
disability claim is based upon her alleged back and leg pain,
as well as other related conditions. See Id. at 164.
According to Plaintiff's medical records, Plaintiff began
seeking treatment for her pain from David Arthurs, D.O. in
May 2012. See Id. at 246-48. Plaintiff thereafter
had appointments with Dr. Arthurs approximately once a month
through June 2014. See Id. at 243-81, 308-42. Dr.
Arthurs made treatment notes for each of these appointments
with Plaintiff. See id.
Arthurs' earliest treatment note for Plaintiff is dated
May 23, 2012, and mentions the results of a 2005 MRI scan
(“2005 MRI”) indicating that Plaintiff had
“a ruptured L5-S1 disc with right-sided nerve
compression.” Id. at 246. The 2005 MRI is part
of the record in this case. See Id. at 236-42.
Throughout his treatment of Plaintiff, Dr. Arthurs prescribed
various pain medications to Plaintiff. See, e.g.,
id. at 247, 256, 258, 314.
February 2013, Plaintiff fell and sustained injuries to her
left ankle and toes. See Id. at 255. According to
Dr. Arthurs' notes from a March 7, 2013 follow-up
appointment with Plaintiff, Dr. Arthurs began recommending
that Plaintiff attempt physical therapy. See Id. at
258. Dr. Arthurs' notes from May 2012 through June 2013
do not indicate whether Plaintiff followed through with
Plaintiff Requested a Hearing Before the Administrative Law
around February 13, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing by an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). See
Id. at 96. ALJ Tamara Turner-Jones held the hearing on
August 6, 2014. See Id. at 25-59 (transcript of
hearing). Frank Ury, Esq. represented Plaintiff at the
hearing. See Id. at 25.
hearing, Plaintiff testified about her daily activities and
how she had difficulty completing household chores. See,
e.g., id. at 33-37. Plaintiff testified that
she fell three times “last year, ” but initially
did not provide specific dates. See Id. at 40.
Plaintiff later stated that her first fall occurred at or
around the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013. See Id.
at 47. Plaintiff also testified that she tried physical
therapy, but stopped going because she “went down after
a few visits from that.” Id. at 40. Again,
Plaintiff did not provide specific dates for when she
attempted physical therapy.
addition, Plaintiff testified about her past work experience.
Plaintiff testified that her most recent employment was in
2011 as a real estate agent selling timeshares. See
Id. at 48. Plaintiff also testified that she previously
worked as a bank teller in 2009. See Id. at 48-49.
In addition, Plaintiff worked full time as a real estate
agent from April 2005 through 2006, and as a bank teller from
2001 to 2005. See Id. at 50. According to
Plaintiff's Work History Report, Plaintiff also worked as
a cleaner from February 2008 to January 2009. See
Id. at 176, 180.
vocational expert testified after Plaintiff. See Id.
at 50-58. The vocational expert testified regarding
Plaintiff's ability to perform past relevant work. No
other witnesses testified at the hearing.
Arthurs' Medical Source Statements
Arthurs submitted two medical source statements
(“MSS”) to the SSA on Plaintiff's behalf.
See Id. at 344-52. The first MSS is dated June 30,
2014 (“6/30/14 MSS”). See Id. at 344-49.
Although unclear, it appears that Plaintiff submitted the
6/30/14 MSS before the hearing. Plaintiff submitted Dr.
Arthurs' second MSS, dated August 12, 2014
(“8/12/14 MSS”), after the hearing. See
Id. at 350-52. In the 6/30/14 MSS and the 8/12/14 MSS
(collectively, “MSS Forms”), Dr. Arthurs appears
to rely upon Plaintiff's 2005 MRI results for his
conclusions therein. See Id. at 347-48, 351-52.
ALJ's Denied Social Security Disability Insurance
December 29, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff Social Security
disability insurance benefits, concluding that Plaintiff had
not established a disability as of June 30, 2013. See
Id. at 12-20. On or around January 23, 2015, Plaintiff
submitted a request to the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision. See Id. at 7; see also
Id. at 233-35. By letter dated May 10, 2016, the Appeals
Council notified Plaintiff that it had denied her request,
finding no reason to review the ALJ's decision. See
Id. at 1-3. The Appeals Council also informed Plaintiff
the Social Security Commissioner (“Commissioner”)
had adopted the ALJ's decision as the final decision in
Plaintiff's case. See Id. at 1. Plaintiff timely
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to review final decisions of the Commissioner. A
reviewing district court will not disturb a final decision by
the Commissioner denying Social Security disability benefits
if the decision is free of legal error and supported by
substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
see also Dale v. Colvin, 823 F.3d 941, 943 (9th Cir.
2016) (reviewing a district court's decision de novo).
Even if a decision is supported by substantial evidence, it
“will still be set aside if the ALJ did not apply
proper legal standards.” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014).
determining the existence of substantial evidence, the
reviewing district court must consider the administrative
record as a whole, weighing the evidence that both supports
and detracts from the Commissioner's factual conclusions.
See Id. “Substantial evidence means more than
a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.
“If the evidence can reasonably support either
affirming or reversing, the reviewing court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.”
Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
Rather, courts “leave it to the ALJ to determine
credibility, resolve conflicts ...