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Chavez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 8, 2014

Julie Chavez, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendants.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Julie Chavez seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), which denied her supplemental security income under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. The Court will vacate the Commissioner's order and remand for further proceedings.[1]

I. Background.

Plaintiff was born in July 1974. She testified at her hearing that she has a ninth grade education and worked in the past as a fast food and cafeteria worker. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: nonobstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and anxiety. A.R. 17. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff suffered from the following non-severe impairments: obesity, status post anal fistulotomy with placement of setons, and headaches. A.R. 17. The ALJ found the impairments have significantly limited Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities for a period of twelve consecutive months or more. A.R. 17.

On September 18, 2009, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning April 24, 2009. The claim was denied initially on September 29, 2009, and upon reconsideration on May 13, 2010. Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on June 10, 2010. On April 14, 2011, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.

On April 20, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

II. Legal Standard.

The district court reviews only those issues raised by the party challenging the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v. Apfel , 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). The court may set aside the Commissioner's disability determination only if the determination is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a whole. Id. In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the court must consider the record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a "specific quantum of supporting evidence." Id. As a general rule, "[w]here the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas v. Barnhart , 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

III. Five Step Sequential Evaluation.

To determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act, the ALJ follows a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, but at step five the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).

At the first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. At step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a "severe" medically determinable physical or mental impairment. § 404.1520(a) (4)(ii). If not, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. At step three, the ALJ considers whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity and determines whether the claimant is still capable of performing past relevant work. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step, where he determines whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled. Id.

At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 18, 2009. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of nonobstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and anxiety. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404.

At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:

has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except that claimant can only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to cold, heat, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, chemicals, ...

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