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Gaus v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 31, 2014

Linda Marie Gaus, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Linda Marie Gaus 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 July 1961. She has had petit mal seizures since eighth grade. Plaintiff graduated from a one-year college program as a home health caregiver and worked as a home health caregiver for many years. In December 2007, Plaintiff's employment was terminated when she broke her arm, her husband was out of town, and she accepted an invitation to stay with the patient for whom she was providing care. She alleges disability beginning December 8, 2007.

In 2009, Plaintiff first reported experiencing vertigo. In June 2010, when asked to describe how her symptoms prevented her from carrying out her normal workday, Plaintiff said "dizziness sometimes (vertigo), " her medicine made her very tired and caused diarrhea, and she did not work. She reported that on an average day she showers, gets dressed, does laundry, goes shopping, washes dishes, prepares meals, feeds her dogs, and does housecleaning. She said she can walk about a half mile, and she no longer drives. She said she assisted with trimming bushes outside her home. Plaintiff also reported having several seizures a month during which she did not lose consciousness.

On May 19, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. On September 27, 2011, Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. An impartial vocational expert also testified. On January 13, 2012, 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. On December 2, 2013, Plaintiff sought review by this Court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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); accord Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012) ("Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.").

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 the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. 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 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 residual functional capacity, 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 March 31, 2012, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 8, 2007. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: seizures and vertigo. 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 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:

has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except the claimant cannot use ladders, ropes or scaffolds. Furthermore, the claimant should avoid even moderate exposure to hazards, including dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. The claimant is further limited because she must commute to and from work using public transportation. The claimant, moreover, cannot work in a fast-paced production environment. She can attend and concentrate for two hours and then must take a customary ten to fifteen minute break. She can then attend and concentrate for two more hours then must take the customary thirty to sixty minute lunch break. She can then attend and ...

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