United States District Court, D. Arizona
DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on June 14, 2010, alleging disability beginning July 1, 2009. Tr. at 28. The application was denied on November 2, 2010 and upon reconsideration on May 18, 2011. Id. Plaintiff was granted a hearing in which she appeared, with counsel, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Philip Moulaison on March 2, 2012. Id. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act. Id. The Appeals Council denied review on May 15, 2013 ( id. at 1-3), and Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the denial and remand for an award of benefits. Doc. 18. Defendant has filed a memorandum in opposition (Doc. 22), and Plaintiff has filed a reply (Doc. 23). Neither party has requested oral argument. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's decision is affirmed.
I. Standard of Review.
Defendant's decision to deny benefits will be vacated "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). "Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance, i.e., such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. In determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the decision and the evidence that detracts from it. Reddick v. Charter, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). If there is sufficient evidence to support the Commissioner's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. See Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).
For purposes of Social Security benefits determinations, a disability is
the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1505.
Determining whether a claimant is disabled involves a sequential five-step evaluation. The claimant must show (1) he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful employment, (2) he has a severe physical or mental impairment, and (3) the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment or (4) his residual functional capacity ("RFC") precludes him from performing his past work. If at any step the Commission determines that a claimant is or is not disabled, the analysis ends; otherwise, it proceeds to the next step. If the claimant establishes his burden through step four, the Commissioner must find the claimant disabled unless he finds that the claimant can make an adjustment to other work. The Commissioner bears the burden at step five of showing that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).
The ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not worked since July 1, 2009, through the date she was last insured on December 31, 2013. Tr. at 30. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, lupus, asthma, noninsulin dependent diabetes mellitus, and right knee impairments. Id. The ALJ found at step three that none of these impairments or combination thereof met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. Id. at 32. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform the full range of light work. Id. The ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff would be able to perform her past relevant work as an airport ticketing agent, nail tech, travel agent, floral arranger, and sales clerk. Id. at 36. The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at 37.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's determination was based on legal error and should be remanded because (1) he gave inappropriate weight to the testimony of two non-treating physicians; (2) he inappropriately rejected the testimony of treating nurse practitioners; and (3) he inappropriately rejected claimant's subjective testimony regarding her symptoms. Doc. 21.
A. Medical Opinions.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ gave inappropriate weight to two physicians' opinions and the opinions of two nurse practitioners. First, Plaintiff argues that although the ALJ claimed to give "significant weight" to the opinion of Dr. Harper, who examined Plaintiff, the ALJ's assessment was not, in fact, in accord with Dr. Harper's opinion. Doc. 21 at 12. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in giving "great weight" to the State agency review physician's opinion. Doc. 21 at 12. Third, Plaintiff argues that the opinions of two nurse practitioners who treated Plaintiff should have been given more weight.
"The ALJ must consider all medical opinion evidence." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c); SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183, at *2 (July 2, 1996). In weighing medical source opinions in Social Security cases, the Ninth Circuit distinguishes among three types of physicians: (1) treating physicians, who actually treat the claimant; (2) examining physicians, who examine but do not treat the claimant; and (3) non-examining physicians, who neither treat nor examine the claimant. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th ...