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Gomez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 8, 2014

Carol Ann Gomez, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMBELL, District Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Carol Ann Gomez seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision finding her not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Doc. 15. For the reasons that follow, the Court will remand the case for an award of benefits.

I. Background.

Plaintiff applied for disability and supplemental security insurance benefits on October 12, 2010, alleging disability beginning March 30, 2010. Doc. 18 at 1. After a hearing on March 15, 2012 (A.R. 26-70), an administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued an opinion on June 8, 2012, finding Plaintiff not disabled (A.R. 11-25). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council and the ALJ's opinion became the Commissioner's final decision. Doc. 18 at 2.

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).

A. 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 he 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 determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 30, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of obesity, hypertension with renal involvement, stage III chronic kidney disease, fibromyalgia, a pain disorder, dysthymic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. At step three, the ALJ found that the 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 light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except for no more than occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights; and relatively few workplace changes." At step five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a legal clerk and data entry clerk because this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC.

III. Analysis.

The only issue for review asserted at the outset of Plaintiff's brief is that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Doc. 15 at 1. The Court, however, is only required to review those issues raised by the parties, s ee Lewis, 236 F.3d at 517 n.13, and simply asserting that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence does not raise a specific issue for review.

Plaintiff does raise specific issues later in her brief. First, she argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of Dr. Prieve, an examining physician. Doc. 15 at 15. Next, she argues that the ALJ incorrectly classified Plaintiff's work as a legal clerk as "substantial gainful activity." Id. at 17. Finally, she argues that the ALJ erred in her assessment of Plaintiff's subjective testimony. Id. at 19. Because the ...


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