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Belmonte v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 26, 2014

Vicky Belmonte, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Vicky Belmonte 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 sections 216(i), 223(d), and 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 March 1984. Plaintiff has an eighth grade education and has no past relevant work experience. On August 11, 2009, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental insurance income. On August 21, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning July 31, 2007. On November 22, 2011, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Plaintiff's request to amend the alleged onset date to August 11, 2009 was granted. On November 30, 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).

Harmless error principles apply in the Social Security Act context. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012). An error is harmless if there remains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision and the error does not affect the ultimate nondisability determination. Id. The claimant usually bears the burden of showing that an error is harmful. Id. at 1111.

III. Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process.

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 found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 11, 2009. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: epilepsy and migraine headaches. 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:

[A] range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) and SSR 83-10 specifically as follows: the claimant can lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; she can stand and/or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday with regular breaks; she can sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday with regular breaks; she is unlimited with respect to pushing and/or pulling, other than as indicated for lifting and/or carrying; she should not work around heights or moving machinery; she should not drive.

The ALJ further found that Plaintiff has no 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 significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.

IV. Analysis.

Plaintiff argues the ALJ's decision is defective for four reasons: (1) the ALJ erroneously weighed medical source evidence, (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility and discounted her subjective testimony, (3) the ALJ improperly evaluated third-party testimony, and (4) the ALJ improperly ...


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