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Moreno v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 30, 2016

Catherine Moreno, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.


Honorable John Z. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff Catherine Moreno seeks review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner’s decision denying her social security and disability benefits under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1; Doc. 16.) For reasons below, the Court will vacate the Commissioner’s final decision and remand this matter for an award of benefits.

I. Background

On February 4, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (AR[1] 12.) On September 14, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts disability beginning on January 31, 2011. (Id. at 226, 229.) Plaintiff’s applications were initially denied on July 15, 2011, and upon reconsideration on November 28, 2011. (Id. at 136, 138.) On January 24, 2012, Plaintiff requested a hearing. (Id. at 150.) Subsequently, Plaintiff’s applications were set for hearing. (Id. at 174.) In a decision dated October 22, 2012, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Earl C. Cates, Jr. found Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id. at 12-25.) On September 3, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision, making it the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. (Id. at 1-8.)

Having exhausted the administrative review process, on October 31, 2014, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ’s decision by filing a Complaint in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1.) On July 21, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief, seeking remand of this case to the Social Security Administration for an award of benefits, or alternatively, for further proceedings. (Doc. 16.) On August 20, 2015, Defendant filed a Response Brief in support of the Commissioner’s decision. (Doc. 17.) On September 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Reply Brief. (Doc. 23.)

II. Legal Standards

a. Standard of Review

The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), provides for judicial review of the Commissioner’s disability benefits determinations. 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); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). “‘Substantial evidence’ means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).

In determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ’s conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720; Tylitzki v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993). The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts, ambiguity, and determining credibility. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The Court “must uphold the ALJ’s decision where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039. “However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.’” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630 (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). The 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). Similarly, the Court reviews “only the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1010 (9th Cir. 2014).

b. The ALJ’s Five-Step Evaluation Process

To be eligible for Social Security benefits, a claimant must show 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); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). A person is under a disability only:

if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

The ALJ follows a five-step evaluation process to determine whether an applicant is disabled ...

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