Wyllie v. Berryhill

Filing 16

ORDER Affirming Defendant's Decision to Deny Benefits by Judge Theresa L Fricke. (TW)

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1 2 3 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT TACOMA 4 5 6 TAYLOR L.M. WYLLIE, Case No. 3:17-cv-05157-TLF 7 8 9 Plaintiff, v. ORDER AFFIRMING DEFENDANT’S DECISION TO DENY BENEFITS NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 10 Defendant. 11 12 Taylor L.M. Wyllie has brought this matter for judicial review of defendant’s denial of 13 her applications for child’s disability insurance and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. 14 15 The parties have consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned Magistrate Judge. 28 16 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73; Local Rule MJR 13. For the reasons set 17 forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits. 18 19 20 FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY Ms. Wyllie protectively applied for SSI on July 22, 2013. Dkt. 11, Administrative Record (“AR”) 13. On May 5, 2014, she applied for child’s insurance benefits based on disability. Id. 21 22 23 Both applications alleged disability beginning July 11, 1995. Id. Ms. Wyllie later amended this alleged onset date to October 18, 2011. AR 38-39. Both applications were denied on initial 24 administrative review and on reconsideration. AR 13. A hearing was held before an 25 administrative law judge (ALJ) on February 11, 2015. AR 34-75. Ms. Wyllie, Mr. James 26 Dumesnil, and a vocational expert appeared and testified. The ALJ found that the relevant date ORDER - 1 1 for determining disability was July 10, 2013, and neither party challenges this determination. AR 2 13. 3 4 In a written decision on September 25, 2015, the ALJ found that Ms. Wyllie could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore that she was 5 not disabled. AR 13-28. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Wyllie’s request for review on January 6 7 25, 2017, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1. Ms. Wyllie 8 appealed that decision in a complaint filed with this Court on March 2, 2017. Dkt. 3; 20 C.F.R. 9 §§ 404.981, 416.1481. 10 11 12 Ms. Wyllie seeks reversal of the ALJ’s decision and remand for an award of benefits, or in the alternative for further administrative proceedings, arguing the ALJ erred: (1) in evaluating the medical evidence in the record; (2) in discounting Ms. Wyllie’s credibility; (3) in rejecting lay witness evidence; 16 (4) in assessing Ms. Wyllie’s residual functional capacity; and 17 (5) in finding Ms. Wyllie could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. 13 14 15 18 19 20 For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the ALJ did not err as Ms. Wyllie alleges. Accordingly, the Court affirms the decision to deny benefits. DISCUSSION 21 22 23 24 The Commissioner employs a five-step “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.520, 416.920. If the ALJ finds the claimant disabled or not disabled at any particular step, the ALJ makes the disability determination at that 25 26 step and the sequential evaluation process ends. See id. At issue here is the ALJ’s weighing of different pieces of medical and opinion evidence, her discounting of Ms. Wyllie’s testimony, her ORDER - 2 1 weighing of lay testimony, and her resulting assessment of Ms. Wyllie’s RFC and conclusion 2 that she can perform jobs in the national economy. 3 4 This Court affirms an ALJ’s determination that a claimant is not disabled if the ALJ applied “proper legal standards” in weighing the evidence and making the determination and if 5 “substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports” that determination. Hoffman v. Heckler, 6 7 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a 8 reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Trevizo v. Berryhill, No. 9 15-16277, 2017 WL 4053751, at *6 (9th Cir. Sept. 14, 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y of 10 Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988)). This requires “‘more than a mere 11 scintilla,’” though “‘less than a preponderance’” of the evidence. Id. (quoting Desrosiers, 846 12 F.2d at 576). 13 This Court will thus uphold the ALJ’s findings if “inferences reasonably drawn from the 14 15 record” support them. Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 16 2004). If more than one rational interpretation can be drawn from the evidence, then this Court 17 must uphold the ALJ’s interpretation. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984). 18 I. 19 20 The ALJ’s Evaluation of the Medical and Other Opinion Evidence The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and resolving ambiguities and conflicts in the medical evidence. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998). Where 21 22 23 the evidence is inconclusive, “‘questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts are functions solely of the [ALJ]’” and this Court will uphold those conclusions. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 24 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting Waters v. Gardner, 452 F.2d 855, 858 n.7 (9th Cir. 25 1971)); Morgan v. Comm’r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601 (9th Cir. 1999). As part of 26 this discretion, the ALJ determines whether inconsistencies in the evidence “are material (or are ORDER - 3 1 in fact inconsistencies at all) and whether certain factors are relevant” in deciding how to weigh 2 medical opinions. Morgan, 169 F.3d at 603. 3 4 The ALJ must support his or her findings with “specific, cogent reasons.” Reddick, 157 F.3d at 725. To do so, the ALJ sets out “a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and 5 conflicting clinical evidence,” interprets that evidence, and makes findings. Id. The ALJ does not 6 7 need to discuss all the evidence the parties present but must explain the rejection of “significant 8 probative evidence.” Vincent on Behalf of Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 9 1984) (citation omitted). The ALJ may draw inferences “logically flowing from the evidence.” 10 Sample, 694 F.2d at 642. And the Court itself may draw “specific and legitimate inferences from 11 the ALJ’s opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989). 12 In general, the ALJ gives more weight to a treating physician’s opinion than to the 13 opinions of physicians who do not treat the claimant. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d. 821, 830 (9th 14 15 Cir. 1995). Nonetheless, an ALJ need not accept a treating physician’s opinion that “is brief, 16 conclusory, and inadequately supported by clinical findings” or “by the record as a whole.” 17 Batson, 359 F.3d at 1195; see also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 957 (9th Cir. 2002); 18 Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2001). 19 20 To reject the uncontradicted opinion of either a treating or examining physician, an ALJ must provide “clear and convincing” reasons. Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. When other evidence 21 22 23 contradicts the treating or examining physician’s opinion, the ALJ must still provide “specific and legitimate reasons” to reject that opinion. Id. at 830-31. In either case, the ALJ’s reasons 24 must be supported by substantial evidence in the record. Id. Next, an ALJ gives greater weight to 25 an examining physician’s opinion than that of a non-examining physician. Id. at 830. Finally, a 26 non-examining physician’s opinion may constitute substantial evidence for an ALJ’s findings if ORDER - 4 1 that opinion “is consistent with other independent evidence in the record.” Tonapetyan, 242 F.3d 2 at 1149. 3 4 A. Examining Doctor: John T. Lloyd, PhD Dr. Lloyd, a clinical psychologist, evaluated Ms. Wyllie in March 2014. AR 308. He 5 based his findings on a mental status examination he performed, psychological testing using the 6 7 Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IV, Wechsler Adult Memory Scale IV, and Trail Making Test, 8 and his review of James Dumesnil’s notes on his therapy with Ms. Wyllie. See AR 308-322. In 9 the mental status examination, Dr. Lloyd observed that Ms. Wyllie’s grooming was “good,” her 10 “interpersonal style” was “quiet and withdrawn,” she seemed to pay “adequate attention,” she 11 made good eye contact, and her communication was clear and simple. AR 309. He noted she 12 denied suicidal thoughts. Id. He also noted that she appeared anxious and her speech was 13 hesitant. Id. And he found that Ms. Wyllie showed “limited persistence” and a pace that 14 15 “appeared to be slightly slower than average.” Id. Based on the tests he administered, Dr. Lloyd 16 observed that Ms. Wyllie showed average intellectual functioning, high-average verbal 17 comprehension and perceptual reasoning, and “a very good memory.” AR 310-11. He found, 18 though, that Ms. Wyllie’s performance on a test measuring “flexibility of thought” was “in the 19 20 impaired range.” AR 311. Dr. Lloyd diagnosed Ms. Wyllie with social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and 21 22 23 mild cognitive impairment. AR 311. He opined that Ms. Wyllie “has done well to recover from her first four years of life,” though she has “residual anxiety which makes it difficult for her to be 24 involved socially.” He found her post-traumatic stress disorder was in remission but that “new 25 stress could revive her symptoms.” Id. He recommended Ms. Wyllie “become involved in 26 intensive psychotherapy with face-to-face contact as opposed to phone or Skype contact.” Id. He ORDER - 5 1 also opined that due to “mild cognitive disturbance,” Ms. Wyllie needs “extra time for learning 2 tasks or tasks requiring problem solving.” Id. 3 4 The ALJ assigned “some weight to Dr. Lloyd’s opinion,” noting that the RFC “accommodated [Ms. Wyllie’s] cognitive impairment by limiting her to simple, routine tasks.” 5 AR 25; see AR 27-28. The ALJ accepted that Ms. Wyllie should not work with the public 6 7 because it “would be more stressful and anxiety provoking.” AR. 25. But the ALJ assigned little 8 weight to Dr. Lloyd’s more restrictive opinion “that the claimant could not work around people.” 9 Id. She found that Dr. Lloyd’s examination and test findings, along with Ms. Wyllie’s daily 10 activities, “do not support greater limitations.” Id. She reasoned that whereas Dr. Lloyd only saw 11 Ms. Wyllie once and reviewed only Mr. Dumesnil’s 2013 report, several other treatment 12 providers examined Ms. Wyllie during the relevant period “and none of them commented that 13 she was anxious or presented with any other signs of psychiatric symptoms.” Id.; see AR 308. 14 15 The record supports this reasoning. In particular, Ms. Wyllie’s primary care providers 16 reported at each visit that Ms. Wyllie was fully oriented and insightful, made good eye contact, 17 displayed a normal mood and affect, and presented as well-groomed and in no acute distress. See 18 AR 280, 334, 337, 340. The ALJ observed that Ms. Wyllie had these appropriate interactions 19 20 even though at least some providers were unfamiliar to her. See AR 25. And Ms. Wyllie’s own testimony, the function report she submitted, and the letters her grandfather and brother provided 21 22 23 all demonstrate Ms. Wyllie’s “good relationship” with her family. See 48-49, 247, 270 (stating that Ms. Wyllie and brother call or text several times per week). The ALJ thus reasonably found 24 that the record shows Ms. Wyllie’s “relationship with her adoptive family and her appropriate 25 interactions with treatment providers . . . support a conclusion that she can tolerate occasional, 26 superficial contact with coworkers that does not entail teamwork.” AR 25. Moreover, this ORDER - 6 1 specific limitation is not necessarily inconsistent with Dr. Lloyd’s more ambiguous statement 2 that Ms. Wyllie “will not be able to work around people.” See AR 311. 3 4 B. Other Medical Source: James Dumesnil, MS Mr. Dumesnil, a licensed counselor and a director of Families By Design (the same 5 company that Ms. Wyllie and her mother worked for), testified at the ALJ hearing that since 6 7 2008 he has provided Ms. Wyllie with “telemental health therapy” through telephone and video 8 chat sessions. AR 57, 272, 292-293. He testified that he and Ms. Wyllie meet this way about 9 once a month and that they usually meet in person once per year. AR 57, 59. The record includes 10 a number of treatment notes, forms, and reports by Mr. Dumesnil. See AR 282-90, 306-07, 324- 11 27, 365-70, 372-373. 12 On a September 2012 form in support of Ms. Wyllie’s mother’s request for “difficulty of 13 care” payments from the State of Hawaii, Mr. Dumesnil stated that Ms. Wyllie needed 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 homeschooling because “of social phobias and social anxiety disorder,” and needed her mother’s support “to minimize risk of triggers/flashbacks/regressions [and] overstimulation.” AR 285. On another Hawaii form in July 2013, Mr. Dumesnil stated that Ms. Wyllie will “likely” have “lifelong challenges.” AR 282. He opined that Ms. Wyllie “still has fear of situations, startle response, still high to new and routine stimuli” and that she “[b]ecomes agitated” and “inflicts self-harm.” AR 283. 21 22 23 In a summary of Ms. Wyllie’s progress in September 2013, Mr. Dumesnil opined that Ms. Wyllie “has made some strides forward therapeutically,” though in completing high school 24 she “was critically dependent on her mother’s participation and leadership.” AR 286-87. He 25 referred to trauma that Ms. Wyllie experienced up to age four, including “physical, emotional, 26 and sexual” abuse. AR 288. He stated that Ms. Wyllie continues to have difficulty trusting others ORDER - 7 1 and struggles with “depression and sometimes-severe emotional dysregulation, leading to self- 2 harm, self-mutilation, suicidal thoughts, nightmares and night terrors.” Id. He stated that Ms. 3 Wyllie “has a paralyzing fear of social situations” and is “extremely limited in her ability to 4 navigate the world,” needing a family member to accompany her to travel. Id. He opined that 5 Ms. Wyllie “cannot keep herself safe, when there is anything unpredictable, unknown or 6 7 potentially threatening.” AR 289. And he concluded that Ms. Wyllie “cannot compete in the 8 usual marketplace of work, or even of school,” and that “being forced into work . . . will result in 9 regression, disorganization, then self-harm, and likely soon lethal attempts at self-harm and 10 eventual self-destruction.” Id. He added, “It has been miraculous that she is as stable as she is.” 11 Id. 12 In March 2014, Mr. Dumesnil wrote that Ms. Wyllie’s 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 trauma triggers are such that regressions, flashbacks, nightmares, increased fear and anxiety, especially outside of the home; reduced ability to shop with family; reduced ability to go to public library; or reduced ability to go to school classroom or supervised job sites has once again become daily routine symptomatology as her Post Traumatic Stress response has been re-constellated. AR 307. In June 2014, Mr. Dumesnil wrote that “anxiety and panic has remained very high for” Ms. Wyllie. He also wrote: “Upon meeting [Ms. Wyllie], outsiders, including mental health professionals, will not perceive these difficulties. She is an attractive woman, and she is also 21 22 23 intelligent, smiles easily (as a defense mechanism), and seems very engaging. . . . It is not apparent to outsiders, due to the smile, that she is overwhelmed and even suffering panic 24 attacks.” AR 324. Later that month, he wrote that Ms. Wyllie “has gotten progressively stronger 25 in the last few months.” AR 326. 26 At the disability determination hearing Mr. Dumesnil testified that Ms. Wyllie “cannot do ORDER - 8 1 a full-time job outside the home.” AR 60. He explained that due to post-traumatic stress disorder 2 from her early life, Ms. Wyllie has “a lot of fears and phobias, anxiety and panic where she 3 cannot be in new situations, cannot be left alone.” AR 61. He stated Ms. Wyllie was home- 4 schooled because she is very easily overwhelmed and would have felt overstimulated and 5 threatened at school. Id. He testified that Ms. Wyllie has difficulty with household tasks in part 6 7 because she must be “reminded that the fire is still on or the stove is on.” AR 62. He opined that 8 Ms. Wyllie may be presenting herself as externally smiling and happy, but is actually in a “huge 9 panic” or will have a period of decompensation later. See AR 63-64. He testified that he does not 10 “think [Ms. Wyllie] would live for too very long if she was living alone right now.” AR 68. He 11 acknowledged that his information about Ms. Wyllie’s household behavior came from her 12 mother. AR 62. 13 The ALJ did “not find Mr. Dumesnil’s testimony entirely credible and assign[ed] very 14 15 little weight to” his September 2013 written statement, the forms he submitted, and his treatment 16 notes. AR 24. The ALJ found that “the severity of symptoms [Mr. Dumesnil] described is wholly 17 unsupported by the treatment notes describing [Ms. Wyllie’s] contacts with other care 18 providers.” Id. The ALJ pointed out that notes from Jamestown Family Health Clinic and 19 20 Olympic Medical Center during the same period do not note any of the psychiatric symptoms on which Mr. Dumesnil based his opinions. Id. She found that in contrast to Mr. Dumesnil’s 21 22 23 testimony that Ms. Wyllie “cannot be in new situations, cannot be alone” and is “very easily overwhelmed,” her treatment notes do not include observations that she showed anxiety or 24 unusual behavior at the hospital or clinic. Id. She also observed that Ms. Wyllie’s medication has 25 not changed since October 2012 and the record did not indicate that her providers recommended 26 any other course or found a need to refer her to a psychiatrist. Id. And the ALJ found that ORDER - 9 1 although Mr. Dumesnil “variously suggested that the claimant could not survive if she lived 2 alone and would engage in self-harm or worse,” Ms. Wyllie herself did not report symptoms of 3 that severity, nor did other treatment providers, and “[t]here is no documentation that [Ms. 4 Wyllie] was engaging in self-harm behaviors.” Id. 5 These are germane reasons to reject Mr. Dumesnil’s opinions, and the record supports 6 7 them. 8 Ms. Wyllie argues that a claimant can use an “other” source opinion, like Mr. 9 Dumesnil’s, to “provide insight into the severity of the individual’s impairment(s) and how it 10 affects the individual’s ability to function. See SSR 06-03p. She also contends that such an 11 opinion from an “other medical source,” or even from a “non-medical source” who has seen the 12 claimant in a professional capacity, can outweigh the opinion of an “acceptable medical source” 13 if the other source has seen the claimant more often, has more evidence supporting his or her 14 15 16 opinion, and gives an opinion more consistent with the record as a whole. SSR 06-03p. The Court has determined that Mr. Dumesnil’s is not such an opinion. Instead, the record 17 supports the ALJ’s finding that Mr. Dumesnil’s opinions were inconsistent with the other 18 evidence in Ms. Wyllie’s treatment record. 19 20 Ms. Wyllie’s therapy was limited to mostly online sessions with Mr. Dumesnil that began in 2008, though the record does not indicate how many sessions were conducted before February 21 22 23 2014. See AR 20, 282, 286-90, 306-07, 365-70. As the ALJ noted, Ms. Wyllie’s treatment notes from her primary-care visits “do not mention [her] presenting as anxious, behaving unusually or 24 showing any other signs of psychiatric symptoms.” AR 24; see AR 280-81, 334-41, 359-64. 25 Treating physicians’ objective evaluations of Wyllie during those visits instead noted that she 26 was oriented and insightful, made good eye contact, and displayed a normal mood and affect. AR ORDER - 10 1 280, 335, 361; see also AR 337, 340 (“Well developed, well nourished . . . in no distress”). These 2 contradictions in the record were a germane reason to reject Mr. Dumesnil’s opinions. 3 4 The ALJ gave another germane and supported reason to reject Mr. Dumesnil’s opinions: Ms. Wyllie did not seek medication for anxiety or depression or treatment from a psychiatrist, 5 and her treating doctors did not see any need to consider such measures. AR 24; see AR 280, 6 7 334, 337. Conservative treatment is a specific and legitimate reason to reject an opinion that an 8 impairment is disabling. See Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1434 (9th Cir. 1995) (holding 9 conservative treatment for back injury was clear and convincing reason to disregard testimony 10 11 12 that claimant was disabled). C. Lay Testimony Ms. Wyllie’s neighbors, Chuck and Linda Livingston, stated in a July 2013 letter that Ms. 13 Wyllie is “very shy” and had told them “she went through extremely traumatic experiences.” AR 14 15 209. Id. They observed that Ms. Wyllie “depends on her mother and older brother . . . to help her 16 navigate emotionally and socially.” Id. They stated that as time went on Ms. Wyllie became 17 more comfortable around them. Id. They stated Ms. Wyllie does minor weeding for them on 18 occasion, and has trouble focusing if she begins talking. Id. They concluded that “[i]t is 19 20 inconceivable to us to think of her being able to get a job.” Id. The ALJ assigned “some weight” to the information from the Livingstons, but she found 21 22 23 that it did not support a finding of a disabling mental condition. See AR 26, 209. The ALJ noted that Ms. Wyllie “does have a job, albeit very part time, and is mature enough to care for an aging 24 horse and provide adoptive care for her adoptive mother.” AR 26. The ALJ reasoned that, in any 25 case, “[t]rouble focusing on a task while carrying on a conversation with one’s employer does 26 not support a finding of disabling mental condition.” See id. And the ALJ noted that the ORDER - 11 1 2 3 4 Livingstons did not mention Ms. Wyllie isolating indoors or rarely leaving the house. Id. An ALJ must consider lay witness testimony concerning a claimant's ability to work. Stout v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration, 454 F.3d 1050, 1053 (9th Cir. 2006). An ALJ may disregard lay witness testimony “if the ALJ ‘gives reasons germane to each witness for 5 doing so.’” Turner v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 613 F.3d 1217, 1224 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Lewis v. 6 7 8 9 Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 511 (9th Cir. 2001)). Here, the ALJ gave germane reasons for discounting the Livingstons’ statements, and the record supports them. Ms. Wyllie does have a “very part time” job in forwarding calls for Mr. 10 Dumesnil’s company, in addition to caring for an aging horse and caring for her mother. See AR 11 43, 48-49, 54. Moreover, the Livingstons’ only statement that would strongly support a disability 12 finding is the conclusory statement that they believe she could not hold a job. See AR 209. Such 13 opinions are normally reserved to the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(1) (“A 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 statement by a medical source that you are ‘disabled’ or ‘unable to work’ does not mean that we will determine that you are disabled.”); Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1160 (9th Cir. 2012). Ms. Wyllie’s grandfather, Allan Wylie, stated that “it is extremely difficult to her to go into public, even with me there to help support and encourage her.” AR 247. He recounted a trip to an emergency room in which Ms. Wyllie told him she has to “stay away from humans.” Id. During this trip, she went to the far side of the lobby are and tried to hide behind a post. Id. He 21 22 23 24 25 26 also recounted trips to the library in which Ms. Wyllie “sits in the same chair in kind of a ‘hidden’ area – if that chair is occupied, . . . [Ms. Wyllie] becomes more stressed and appears withdrawn and nervous.” Id. The ALJ gave this statement “limited weight” because Allen Wyllie’s observations that Ms. Wyllie attempts to hide in public places were inconsistent with treatment notes that show she ORDER - 12 1 visited Jamestown Family Health Clinic and Olympic Medical Center without “clinicians 2 witnessing anything like this behavior.” Instead, the ALJ noted, those clinicians described Ms. 3 Wyllie “as having normal, mood, affect and behavior.” AR 26. 4 The record supports the ALJ’s reasoning here, as well. The records from Ms. Wyllie’s 5 visits to these medical treatment facilities show Ms. Wyllie presenting without anxiety or stress 6 7 8 9 symptoms. See AR 280-81, 334-41, 359-64 (“insightful,” “good eye contact,” “normal mood and affect,” “well groomed, in no distress”). Ms. Wyllie’s brother, Jordan, wrote in an undated letter that Ms. Wyllie “was an 10 extremely shy and nervous child who wouldn’t speak for a long while after coming to our 11 home.” AR 270. He said he currently sees Ms. Wyllie “three or four times a year for an average 12 of about four days at a time.” Id. He stated that, “[c]ommon business or social interactions are 13 extremely difficult for [Ms. Wyllie].” Id. He also stated that Ms. Wyllie “[m]aking a call for a 14 15 regular appointment becomes a monumental task.” See id. He described Ms. Wyllie talking to 16 him on the phone and being nervous about getting things wrong. See id. Jordan Wyllie described 17 how Ms. Wyllie is putting off getting a driver’s license because “even taking lessons is too much 18 to think about.” Id. He concluded that he could not “see [Ms. Wyllie] being able to function 19 20 alone for many years,” explaining that “[h]er social phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxieties make for an extreme challenge.” Id. 21 22 23 The ALJ assigned limited weight to this statement, again noting that the treatment records from Jamestown Health Clinic and Olympic Medical Center “make absolutely no mention of the 24 claimant presenting as anxious or behaving unusually.” AR 26. The ALJ further supported her 25 finding by noting Ms. Wyllie “has not sought to try other psychotropic medications . . . and there 26 is no indication that her primary care providers thought a psychiatric referral was warranted.” ORDER - 13 1 AR 27. As discussed above, the record supports the ALJ’s characterization of her visits to these 2 two medical treatment centers. See AR 280-81, 334-41, 359-64 (noting normal objective 3 psychiatric indicators). Although Dr. Lloyd recommended “intensive psychotherapy with face- 4 to-face contact” in March 2014, there is no indication that Ms. Wyllie followed this 5 recommendation. See AR 311; Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1113 (9th Cir. 2012) (holding 6 7 that failure to follow advice to seek treatment was valid reason to discount disability claim). 8 Thus, the ALJ provided germane and supported reasons to assign Jordan Wyllie’s testimony little 9 weight. 10 II. 11 Questions of credibility are solely within the control of the ALJ. Sample, 694 F.2d at 642. 12 The ALJ’s Evaluation of Ms. Wyllie’s Testimony The Court should not “second-guess” this credibility determination. Allen, 749 F.2d at 580. In 13 addition, the Court may not reverse a credibility determination where that determination is based 14 15 on contradictory or ambiguous evidence. See id. at 579. That some of the reasons for discrediting 16 a claimant’s testimony should properly be discounted does not render the ALJ’s determination 17 invalid, as long as substantial evidence supports that determination. Tonapetyan, 242 F.3d at 18 1148. 19 20 To reject a claimant’s subjective complaints, the ALJ must provide “specific, cogent reasons for the disbelief.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 834 (citation omitted). Unless affirmative evidence 21 22 23 shows the claimant is malingering, the ALJ’s reasons for rejecting the claimant’s testimony must be “clear and convincing.” Lester, 81 F.2d at 834. An ALJ cannot reject a claimant’s pain 24 testimony solely on the basis of a lack of objective medical evidence in the record. See Orteza v. 25 Shalala, 50 F.3d 748, 749-50 (9th Cir. 1995). Such a determination can satisfy the clear and 26 convincing requirement when the ALJ “specif[ies] what complaints are contradicted by what ORDER - 14 1 clinical observations.” Regennitter v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 166 F.3d 1294, 1297 2 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Lester, 81 F.3d at 834. 3 4 Ms. Wyllie testified that she suffers from debilitating anxiety that would make her unable to work with people or on a deadline. AR 47-51. She also testified that she has difficulty 5 remembering to eat meals and take showers. AR 51-52. 6 7 The ALJ found that Ms. Wyllie’s testimony supported some limitations, including no 8 work with the public and only “occasional, superficial contact with coworkers that does not 9 entail teamwork.” AR 21. But the ALJ concluded that Ms. Wyllie’s testimony about “the 10 intensity, persistence and limiting effects” of her mental-health symptoms was “not entirely 11 credible.” AR 20. The ALJ found that that Ms. Wyllie received only “minimal health treatment” 12 and the record from her primary care shows no “signs of psychiatric symptoms.” AR 20. 13 The ALJ identified particular statements she found not credible and explained her reasons 14 15 for that finding. For example, the ALJ did not credit Ms. Wyllie’s statements that she depends on 16 her family for emotional support, needs help managing her daily routine, and “is essentially 17 unable to function outside the home without another family member present.” The ALJ 18 explained that these severe symptoms were inconsistent with Ms. Wyllie’s treatment record. That 19 20 record shows that since 2012 Ms. Wyllie has received only one medication, for insomnia and at the same dosage. See AR 280, 334, 337. The ALJ found that Ms. Wyllie’s treatment record also 21 22 23 indicates that she has not sought “ongoing mental health treatment” or to adjust her medication, and her primary-care providers have not seen a need to refer her to a psychiatrist. AR 20. The 24 ALJ further found that Ms. Wyllie’s treatment records “made absolutely no mention of her 25 appearing anxious, behaving unusually or . . . show[ing] any other signs of mental distress.” AR 26 21. She noted that treatment notes, which state Ms. Wyllie “cares for elderly adoptive mother” ORDER - 15 1 and “does a lot of her personal care,” contradict Ms. Wyllie’s testimony that she depends on her 2 mother to manage her daily activities. AR 21, 51-52, 337. Finally, the ALJ noted that the results 3 of a March 2014 consultative psychological evaluation were also inconsistent with Ms. Wyllie’s 4 reports that she needed reminders for simple tasks like showering and eating. AR 22, 51-52. Ms. 5 Wyllie’s results showed high scores for memory, an average IQ, high-average verbal 6 7 comprehension and perceptual reasoning, and average processing speed. AR 309-11. These were clear and convincing reasons for the ALJ to discount Ms. Wyllie’s testimony. 8 9 As discussed above, the record supports the ALJ’s assessment of Ms. Wyllie’s mental health 10 treatment as “minimal.” See AR 280-81, 334-41, 359-64 (only medication throughout period was 11 tranquilizer, while primary-care notes do not mention need for psychiatric referral), 374 (clinic 12 reported no new treatment notes from July 2014 to June 2015). And as also noted above, 13 objective medical evaluations were normal in her visits to Jamestown Family Health Clinic and 14 15 Olympic Medical Center. See AR 280, 335, 337, 340, 361. In reviewing Ms. Wyllie’s medical 16 records in April 2014, Dr. Beth Fitterer opined that Ms. Wyllie had no “clear current symptoms” 17 of her earlier trauma. See AR 83. Dr. Lisa Hacker reached similar conclusions two months later, 18 finding Ms. Wyllie’s “anxiety will periodically impede her social interactions and pace but [she 19 20 is] capable of competitive employment.” AR 101. The ALJ thus based her reasoning on substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 21 22 23 III. The ALJ’s RFC Assessment The Commissioner uses a claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment at 24 step four of the five-step “sequential evaluation process” to determine whether he or she can 25 perform his or her past relevant work, and at step five to determine whether he or she can do 26 other work. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2. ORDER - 16 1 The RFC is what the claimant “can still do despite his or her limitations.” Id. A 2 claimant’s RFC is the maximum amount of work the claimant is able to perform based on all of 3 the relevant evidence in the record. Id. However, an inability to work must result from the 4 claimant’s “physical or mental impairment(s).” Id. Thus, the ALJ must consider only those 5 limitations and restrictions “attributable to medically determinable impairments.” Id. In assessing 6 7 a claimant’s RFC, the ALJ must also discuss why the claimant’s “symptom-related functional 8 limitations and restrictions can or cannot reasonably be accepted as consistent with the medical 9 or other evidence.” Id. at *7. 10 Here, the ALJ found that Ms. Wyllie has the RFC 11 To perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: She can perform simple, routine tasks. The claimant should have no contact with the public. She can have occasional, superficial contact with coworkers that does not entail teamwork. The claimant needs a stable work environment. 12 13 14 15 AR 18 (emphasis in original). Because, as discussed above, the ALJ did not make the errors Ms. 16 Wyllie asserts in considering the medical evidence, her testimony, or the testimony of lay 17 witnesses, the ALJ’s RFC assessment completely and accurately describes Ms. Wyllie’s 18 functional limitations. Moreover, because Ms. Wyllie’s challenge to the ALJ’s finding at step 19 20 five depends on the alleged errors in the RFC, and because the ALJ did not err in reaching the RFC, Ms. Wyllie has not shown any error at step five. See AR 18, 27; Dkt. 13, pp. 7-8. 21 22 23 24 25 26 ORDER - 17 CONCLUSION 1 2 3 4 Based on the foregoing discussion, the Court finds the ALJ properly determined Ms. Wyllie to be not disabled. Defendant’s decision to deny benefits is therefore AFFIRMED. DATED this 2nd day of October, 2017. 5 6 A 7 Theresa L. Fricke United States Magistrate Judge 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 ORDER - 18

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