United States District Court, D. Arizona
MICHELLE H. BURNS, Magistrate Judge.
Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Rebecca Dixie Salcido's appeal from the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in May 2010, alleging disability beginning February 1, 2010. (Transcript of Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 26, 273-81.) Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. at 181-84, 189-95.) Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Tr. at 196.) A hearing was held on November 16, 2011. (Tr. at 43-95.) The record was left open and a subsequent hearing was held on March 27, 2012. (Tr. at 96-128.) On April 9, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 23-42.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. at 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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); 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).
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2010 the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 28.) At step two, he found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary embolism, blood clots, diabetes mellitus, gastroesophageal reflux disease, sleep apnea, hypertension, obesity, post right knee surgery (5/10), arthritis, low back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome (right). (Tr. at 28-30.) 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 30.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained "the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) with the following limitations: must be allowed to sit or stand alternatively at will provided she is not off task more than 10% of the work period; can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; can frequently handle objects, that is, gross manipulation with the right; can frequently finger, that is, fine manipulation of items no smaller than the size of a paper clip with the right; can frequently feel with the right; must avoid moderate exposure to excessive noise, irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gases, ...