United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. MURRAY SNOW, District Judge.
Pending before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff Sheri Slocum, which challenges the Social Security Administration's decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 12.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court vacates that decision and remands for further consideration.
Slocum applied for supplemental security income on January 11, 2010. (R. at 158.) She alleged disability beginning February 25, 2009. (R. at 26.) Her claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. ) She then appealed to an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ( Id. ) The ALJ conducted a hearing on the matter on February 17, 2012. (R. at 43-56.)
In evaluating whether Slocum was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability. (R. 26-28.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Slocum had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 25, 2009, the alleged onset date. (R. at 28.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Slocum suffered from the severe impairments of chronic back and neck pain, degenerative joint disease, fibromyalgia, lupus, history of valley fever, headaches, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and nicotine abuse. (R. at 28-29.) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration's listed impairments. (R. at 29-30.)
At that point, the ALJ made a determination of Slocum's residual functional capacity ("RFC"),  concluding that she could perform sedentary work with certain restrictions. (R. at 30.) The ALJ thus determined at step four that Slocum retained the RFC to perform her past relevant work as an administrative assistant. (R. at 35.) The ALJ did not reach step five. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Slocum had not been under a disability from the date of her alleged onset. ( Id. )
The Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (R. at 1-6.) Slocum now appeals the ALJ's determination.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A reviewing federal court will only address the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance." Id. (quotation omitted). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quotation omitted).
However, the ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). "When the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one rational interpretation, we must defer to the ALJ's conclusion." Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so because "[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in evidence, and if the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).
A. The Administrative Record
The Court will make its determination based on the parties' briefs and the official administrative record. Slocum filed many of her medical records as exhibits or attachments to her Complaint in this matter. (Docs. 1, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4.) The government in its Answer argued that this Court may not "consider or review extra-record evidence." (Doc. 10 ¶ 3.) The government then filed the complete administrative record. (Docs. 11 to 11-23.) Slocum acknowledged that the administrative record contained everything she wanted the Court to consider except for an RFC Questionnaire completed by Dr. Jason Taylor. (Doc. 12 at 6.) She argues that Dr. ...