United States District Court, D. Nevada
JERRI L. RAEL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
for Reversal and/or Remand (ECF No. 15), Cross Motion to
Affirm (ECF No. 20).
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
FERENBACH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter involves Plaintiff Jerri Rael's appeal from the
Commissioner's final decision denying her social security
benefits. Before the Court is Rael's Motion for Reversal
or Remand (ECF No. 15) and the Commissioner of Social
Security's Motion to Affirm (ECF No. 20). For the reasons
stated below the Court recommends denying Rael's motion
to reverse or remand and granting the Commissioner's
motion to affirm.
Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from depriving
persons of property without due process of law. U.S. Const.
amend. V. Social security claimants have a constitutionally
protected property interest in social security benefits.
Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 332 (1976). 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) authorizes the district court to review
final decisions made by the Commissioner of Social Security.
district court will not disturb an Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ”) denial of benefits unless
“it is not supported by substantial evidence or it is
based on legal error.” Burch v. Barnhart, 400
F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation omitted).
When reviewing an ALJ's decision, “the findings of
the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence means, “such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion” and is defined as “more than a mere
scintilla but less than a preponderance” of
evidence. Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740
F.3d 519, 522 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation omitted).
evidence could give rise to multiple rational
interpretations, the court must uphold the ALJ's
conclusion. Burch, 400 F.3d at 679. This means that
the Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision if it
has any support in the record. See, e.g.,
Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1988)
(stating that the court may not reweigh evidence, try the
case de novo, or overturn the Commissioner's
decision “even if the evidence preponderates
I. Factual Background
applied the five step sequential analysis pursuant to 20
C.F.R § 404.1520. The ALJ determined that Rael suffered
from a severe combination of impairments including ulcerative
colitis. (AR 24). The ALJ examined relevant medical evidence
including opinions and reports of a treating physician (Dr.
Nyamuswa), opinions of examining physicians (Dr. Cabaluna,
Dr. Shah, and Dr. Pena), opinions of consulting physicians
(Dr. Villaflor and Dr. Arnow), and records of medical
treatment and visits to physicians. (AR 24-32). The ALJ
determined that Rael maintained the residual functional
capacity to work at a sedentary exertion level despite these
impairments. (AR 27-33). Since Rael was qualified to work at
a sedentary exertion level, she was able to perform her past
relevant work as a doctor's office receptionist. (AR 33).
The ALJ thus denied her social security benefits. (AR 34).
argues that the ALJ made three legal errors. (ECF No. 16).
Rael first claims that the ALJ committed a legal error when
he did not consider work limitations that may result from
symptoms of her ulcerative colitis. (ECF No. 16 at 4-8). Rael
argues that an impairment cannot be severe without limiting
an individual's ability to work. (Id. at 5).
Rael asserts that since the ALJ determined that her
ulcerative colitis was a severe impairment, it was a legal
error for the ALJ to not find any work limitations subject to
that impairment. (Id. at 4-8.).
Specifically, Rael asserts that the ALJ does not discuss work
limitations resulting from diarrhea with fecal urgency.
argues that the ALJ committed a second legal error when he
did not afford proper weight to her treating physician's
(Gilbert Nyamuswa) opinion. (ECF No. 16 at 11-18). Dr.
Nyamuswa submitted a form detailing his opinion on Rael's
limitations. (AR 521-523). These limitations included needing
unscheduled breaks every hour for twenty minutes,
sitting/standing for “far less” than eight hours
a day, and at least two absences a month from work.
(Id.). Rael argues that this opinion “if
properly credited…establishes that Plaintiff is
‘disabled' as the Agency defines that term.”
(ECF No. 16 at 11). Rael asserts that since Dr. Nyamuswa was
her treating physician, the ALJ should not have disregarded
his opinion absent clear and convincing reasons.
(Id. at 12-14).
asserts that the ALJ made a third legal error when he did not
consider her “exemplary work history” as a factor
in determining her credibility. (Id. at 19-21). Rael
argues that the ALJ was required to take into account her
work history when assessing the credibility of her testimony
on the severity of her symptoms. (Id.).
Commissioner argues that the ALJ did not make any legal
errors. (ECF No. 20). The Commissioner responds to Rael's
first alleged error by arguing that the ALJ had no obligation
to include limitations for Rael's diarrhea. (Id.
at 3). The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ did not find
Rael's ulcerative colitis alone to be a severe
impairment, but rather found her combination of impairments
to be severe. (Id.). The Commissioner further argues
that even if the ALJ had determined the ulcerative ...