United States District Court, D. Arizona
MICHELLE H. BURNS, District Judge.
Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Micki Baldwin's appeal from the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits. After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On September 11, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning February 20, 2009. (Transcript of Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 12, 141.) Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. at 64-79, 82-84.) Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, and a hearing was held on February 9, 2012. (Tr. at 30-63.) Afterwards, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 9-27.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, (Tr. at 1-5), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This appeal followed.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court must affirm the ALJ's findings if the findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from reversible legal error. See Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Marcia v. Sullivan , 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" and "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted); see Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720.
In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the Court considers the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. See Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720. "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); see Magallanes v. Bowen , 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the [Commissioner's] conclusion, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720-21.
III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
In order to be eligible for disability or social security benefits, a claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An ALJ determines a claimant's eligibility for benefits by following a five-step sequential evaluation:
(1) determine whether the applicant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity";
(2) determine whether the applicant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments;
(3) determine whether the applicant's impairment equals one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges as so severe as to preclude the applicant from engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(4) if the applicant's impairment does not equal one of the listed impairments, determine whether the applicant is capable of performing his or her past relevant work;
(5) if the applicant is not capable of performing his or her past relevant work, determine whether the applicant is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience.
See Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920). At the fifth stage, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful work. See Penny v. Sullivan , 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993). The Commission must consider claimant's residual functional capacity and vocational factors such as age, education, and past work experience. Id.
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 20, 2009 - the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 14.) At step two, she found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: Obesity (5'3" × 170 pounds), status post cervical spine fusion, lumbar spine degenerative disc disease with mild stenosis, a depressive disorder, and headaches. (Id.) The ALJ found that there was no objective medical evidence on record of Plaintiff having a bone marrow diagnosis or any evidence to conclude that this is a condition likely to even last 12 months or cause even minimal limitations on Plaintiff's functioning. (Id.)
At step three, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. at 14.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff-
has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), with lifting and carrying to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, sitting, standing and walking to 6 out of 8 hours per day, no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, occasional climbing ramps and stairs, frequent balancing, crouching, crawling, kneeling and stooping, the need to avoid all exposure to hazardous heights and use of moving machinery, with the mental capacity to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks, but without specification as to the number of steps required to complete the task, only occasional interaction with the public, coworkers and supervisors.
(Tr. at 16.)
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, as her past work as a caregiver was medium and semi skilled. (Tr. at 21.) The ALJ determined that, "considering [Plaintiff]'s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform." (Tr. at 22.)
Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from February 20, 2009, through ...