United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE
S.C. Chang, United States Magistrate Judge
Macrina Jean Frierson (“Plaintiff”) appeals the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
determination that she is not disabled. She asks this Court
to reverse the ALJ's decision and find her disabled as of
March 25, 2012. Oral arguments were held on September 6,
2017. Danielle Beaver, Esq., appeared on behalf of Plaintiff.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Asim Modi appeared by
telephone and Assistant U.S. Attorney Edric Ching appeared on
behalf of Defendant Nancy Berryhill
careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the
record, the applicable law, and the arguments of counsel, the
Court HEREBY AFFIRMS the ALJ's Decision for the reasons
set forth below.
March 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), alleging a disability
onset date of March 25, 2012. The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied her application.
August 11, 2014, the ALJ convened a hearing.
October 31, 2014, the ALJ issued her Decision, finding and
concluding as follows:
• Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 30, 2015. Administrative
Record (“AR”) at 17.
• Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 25, 2012. Id.
• Plaintiff's severe impairments include
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and diabetes
mellitus. Id. at 18.
• Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525
and 404.1526). Id. at 19.
• Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)
except that she is able to lift and/or carry 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk 6
hours in an 8-hour day with customary breaks; sit 6 hours in
an 8-hour day with customary breaks; she would need to
alternate positions between sitting and standing at 1-hour
intervals for 1-5 minutes at the workstation; occasionally
kneel, stoop, crawl, and crouch; occasionally climb ramps and
stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she would
have no restrictions on the use of the upper extremities for
fine or gross manipulations or reaching in any direction; she
would need to avoid unprotected height and dangerous moving
machinery; she would be able to sustain concentration and
attention, persistence and pace in two hour blocks of time to
complete a normal workday; she would be able to interact and
respond appropriately to coworkers, supervisors, and the
general public; and she would be able to understand remember
and carry out both detailed and complex tasks.
• Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work
as an administrative clerk, and such work does not require
her to perform work-related activities precluded by her
residual functional capacity. Id. at 23.
• Plaintiff has not been under a disability.
Id. at 24.
December 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of
Hearing Decision/Order. Id. at 7. The ALJ's
Decision became the Commissioner's final decision when
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request on May 17,
2016. Id. at 1-6.
decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
applied the correct legal standards. Benton v.
Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003).
“Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla,
but less than a preponderance. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Trevizo v. Berryhill,
862 F.3d 987, 996 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation and quotation
omitted); Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005). To determine whether there is substantial
evidence to support the ALJ's decision, a court
“must consider the entire record as a whole, weighing
both the evidence that supports and the evidence that
detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, and may not
affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995,
1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)). If the
record, considered as a whole, can reasonably support either
affirming or reversing the ALJ's decision, the decision
must be affirmed. Hiler v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1209,
1211 (9th Cir. 2012); Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625,
630 (9th Cir. 2007) (“Where evidence is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision
should be upheld.”); Matney v. Sullivan, 981
F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992) (“If the evidence can
support either outcome, the court may not substitute its
judgment for that of the ALJ.”); see also
Burch, 400 F.3d at 679. The ALJ, as the finder of fact,
is responsible for weighing the evidence, resolving conflicts
and ambiguities, and determining credibility. Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
appeals the ALJ's determination that she is not
disabled. She argues that she is unable to perform
her past relevant work and asks this Court to find her
disabled with an onset date of March 25, 2012.
eligible for disability insurance benefits, a claimant must
demonstrate that he is unable 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.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). In addition, it may only be determined that a
claimant is under a disability “if his physical or
mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he
is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
Only disabilities existing before the date last insured
establish entitlement to disability insurance benefits.
Sam v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008)
(citing Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394 (9th
Cir. 1984) (per curiam)).
five-step analysis is employed in evaluating disability
In step one, the ALJ determines whether a claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If so, the
claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step
two and evaluates whether the claimant has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments. If not, the
claimant is not disabled. If so, the ALJ proceeds to step
three and considers whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals a listed impairment under 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. If so, the claimant is
automatically presumed disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to
step four and assesses whether the claimant is capable of
performing her past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not
disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step five and examines
whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform any other substantial gainful
activity in the national economy. If so, the claimant is not
disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.
Burch, 400 F.3d at 679; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
It is the claimant's burden to prove a disability in
steps one through four of the analysis. Burch, 400
F.3d at 679 (citing Swenson v. Sullivan, 876 F.2d
683, 687 (9th Cir. 1989)). “However, if a claimant
establishes an inability to continue [his] past work, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner in step five to show that
the claimant can perform other substantial gainful
work.” Id. (citation omitted).
conducting the relevant analysis, and as applicable to the
instant appeal, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is able to
perform past relevant work as an administrative clerk and
that she is not disabled. AR at 23-24. Plaintiff contends
that it was an abuse of discretion for the ALJ to express
medical opinions unsupported by the evidence and outside her
area of expertise in concluding that Plaintiff's
condition was not disabling. Plaintiff additionally submits
that the facts relied upon by the ALJ do not support her
determination that Plaintiff was not credible.
challenges the ALJ's conclusion that she was not fully
credible. “Credibility determinations are the province
of the ALJ.” Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 604
(9th Cir. 1989); Greger v. Barnhart, 464 F.3d 968,
972 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations and quotations omitted)
(“[Q]uestions of credibility and resolutions of
conflicts in the testimony are functions solely of the
Secretary.”); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742,
750 (9th Cir. 2007). When the ALJ makes specific findings
justifying a decision to disbelieve an allegation of excess
pain, and those findings are supported by substantial
evidence in the record, it is not the Court's role to
second-guess that decision. Fair, 885 F.2d at 604.
The Ninth Circuit has established a two-step analysis for
determining the extent to which a claimant's symptom
testimony must be credited:
First, 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. In this analysis, the
claimant is not required to show that her impairment could
reasonably be expected to cause the severity of the symptom
she has alleged; she need only show that it could reasonably
have caused some degree of the symptom. Nor must a claimant
produce objective medical evidence of the pain or fatigue
itself, or the severity thereof.
If the claimant satisfies the first step of this analysis,
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. This is not an easy requirement to
meet: The clear and convincing standard is the most demanding
required in Social Security cases.
Trevizo, 862 F.3d at 1000 (quoting
Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1014-15); Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012) (identifying
two-step analysis in assessing the credibility of a
claimant's testimony regarding the subjective pain or
intensity of symptoms); Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d
586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009); Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at
1036. That said, the ALJ need not “‘believe every
allegation of disabling pain, or else disability benefits
would be for the asking, a result plainly contrary to 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A).'” Molina, 674
F.3d at 1112 (quoting Fair, 885 F.2d at 603).
determinations must be made with sufficiently specific
findings to allow the court to conclude that the ALJ did not
arbitrarily discredit a claimant's testimony. Thomas
v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 958 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing
Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 345-46 (9th Cir.
1991) (en banc)). The following factors are relevant in
reviewing an ALJ's credibility findings, and are also
required by the SSA:
(1) whether the claimant engages in daily activities
inconsistent with the alleged symptoms;
(2) whether the claimant takes medication or undergoes other
treatment for the symptoms; (3) whether the claimant fails to
follow, without adequate explanation, a prescribed course of
treatment; and (4) whether the alleged symptoms are
consistent with the medical evidence.
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1040; Orn, 495
F.3d at 636 (quoting Fair, 885 F.2d at 603) (ALJs
may consider the following factors in weighing a
claimant's credibility: “reputation for
truthfulness, inconsistencies in testimony or between
testimony and conduct, daily activities, and
‘unexplained, or inadequately explained, failure ...