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Collins v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 3, 2014

Lisa Ann Collins, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lisa Ann Collins seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), which denied her disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is supported by substantial evidence and is not based on legal error, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

I. Background.

Plaintiff was born in August 1960. She has a high school education and completed three years of college. Her prior job history includes work as a bartender, flooring installer, and a deli manager.

On May 20, 2011, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning December 30, 2010. Her application was denied initially on October 13, 2011, and upon reconsideration on May 18, 2012. On January 30, 2013, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.

On April 17, 2013, 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 final.

II. Standard of Review.

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. The ALJ's 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 ("RFC") 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 the ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant's RFC, 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 has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 20, 2011. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease; headaches; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 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 RFC to perform:

[L]ight work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except [Plaintiff] is limited to occasional push/pull with the bilateral upper extremities and occasional operation of foot controls with the bilateral lower extremities. [Plaintiff] should never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Yet, she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, as well as balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. In addition, [Plaintiff] should avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold and humidity. She should avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, poorly ventilated areas, dangerous machinery with moving mechanical parts, and exposed, unprotected heights.

A.R. 18. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in ...


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