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Cavalic v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 9, 2015

Nadira Cavalic, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Nadira Cavalic 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 under sections 216(i) and 223(d) 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 June 1977 and was 34 years old on the alleged disability date. She has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. She previously worked as a mail handler, hotel housekeeping manager, and hotel maid. She has degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, which she alleges causes constant pain. She reports she is unable to sit, stand, or walk for more than a half hour. She is able to drive, perform personal care, make simple meals, read, and watch television. She has no problem paying attention and is able to follow written and spoken instructions very well. She lives with her husband and two children, who take care of housecleaning and shopping. She goes outside twice a day, walking, driving, or riding in a car. She talks on the telephone to family and friends daily and visits with family and friends weekly.

On January 13, 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning July 1, 2011, subsequently amended to February 28, 2012. On April 29, 2013, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. On May 17, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. On December 14, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. On February 10, 2015, 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 June 30, 2014, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 28, 2012. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine at the L5-S1 levels and of the cervical spine at the C7-T1 levels. 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 light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Specifically, the claimant can lift, carry, push and pull 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. She can sit, stand and walk about six hours total in an eight-hour workday. She is unlimited in her ability to kneel and balance, can frequently climb ramps and stairs, crouch and bend and can occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds, stoop and crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration but has no other manipulative, visual, communicative or environmental limitations.

The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in ...


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