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Robinson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 10, 2014

Cathy Robinson, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.


A. THOMAS FERRARO, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Cathy Robinson filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). (Doc. 1.) Before the Court are Robinson's Opening Brief[1] and Defendant's Opposition to Robinson's Opening Brief. (Docs. 18, 21.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record submitted to the Court, this matter is remanded for further proceedings.


Robinson filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on October 7, 2009. (Administrative Record (AR) 159.) She alleged disability from January 1, 1992. ( Id. ) At the hearing, Robinson revised her onset date to October 2009.[2] (AR 42. 45.) Robinson's application was denied upon initial review (AR 55) and on reconsideration (AR 57). A hearing was held on June 6, 2011 (AR 40-53), after which ALJ Peter J. Baum found, at Step Five, that Robinson was not disabled (AR 25-33). The Appeals Council denied Robinson's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


Robinson was born on March 1, 1961, making her 48 years of age at the onset date of her alleged disability. (AR 159.) Robinson last worked in 1992, earning a few hundred to several thousand dollars in any given year. (AR 167-68.)

The ALJ found Robinson had two severe impairments, anxiety disorder and borderline intellectual functioning. (AR 27.) The ALJ also considered the fact that Robinson had been diagnosed with degenerative scoliosis, but found that she had no severe physical impairments. The ALJ concluded Robinson had the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to do work at all exertional levels, but limited her to simple, unskilled work requiring no more than minimal social contact. (AR 29.) Robinson had no past relevant work to evaluate at Step Four. At Step Five, the ALJ found, based on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, that Robinson could perform other work available in the national economy.


The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate SSI claims. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-462 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing she (1) is not working; (2) has a severe physical or mental impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; and (4) claimant's RFC precludes her from performing her past work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). If the Commissioner conclusively finds the claimant "disabled" or "not disabled" at any point in the five-step process, she does not proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

"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) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989)). The findings of the Commissioner are meant to be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992)). The court may overturn the decision to deny benefits only "when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001). This is so because the ALJ "and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and if the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 400 (1971)); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner's decision, however, "cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Reviewing courts must consider the evidence that supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir. 1975).


Robinson argues the ALJ committed four errors: (1) the ALJ erred at Step Two when he did not find Robinson's spinal problems to be a severe impairment; (2) the ALJ erroneously evaluated Robinson's credibility; (3) the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of Robinson's treating physician, Dr. Afek; and (4) the ALJ's Step Five determination is erroneous due to the errors at Step Two and in determining Robinson's RFC.

Step Two

Robinson argues that, at Step Two, the ALJ erred in failing to find her spinal problems to be a severe impairment. Even if Robinson's spinal problems would qualify as severe under the regulations, excluding them at Step Two has no practical relevance. As long as the ALJ finds at least one severe impairment, he proceeds past Step Two, as he did in this case. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). Regardless of the Step Two findings, when formulating a claimant's RFC between Steps Three and Four, the ALJ must consider all impairments, severe and non-severe. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(2). The ALJ did that in this case by considering Robinson's spinal issues when evaluating her RFC. (AR 30.) Robinson ...

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