United States District Court, D. Arizona
Erica L. Smith, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.
A. Teilborg, Senior United States District Judge.
before the Court is Plaintiff Erica L. Smith's appeal
from the Social Security Commissioner's denial of her
application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff argues that the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) erred by finding Plaintiff and her
husband's testimony to be non-credible and by improperly
weighing the opinions of treating physicians Ramin Sabahi,
M.D., and Nirmala Aryal, M.D. The Court now rules on
November 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging a
disability onset date of March 29, 2009. (Tr.
On April 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for
supplemental security income, alleging the same onset date.
(Id.) Plaintiff's claims were denied initially
on February 28, 2011, and upon reconsideration on July 7,
2011. (Id.) Plaintiff timely requested a hearing
which was conducted before ALJ Philip E. Moulaison on
February 28, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Id.) On
March 27, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr.
35). After Plaintiff's request for review by the Social
Security Administration Appeals Council was denied, she
commenced this action in federal court on March 3, 2014.
was born in 1981 and lives with her husband and their three
children in Avondale, Arizona. (Tr. 45). Plaintiff earned her
GED certification before working for several years as a
photographer/manager, cashier, housekeeper, meat cutter,
customer service representative, cook, fast food worker,
telemarketer, snack bar attendant, and waitress. (Tr. 47,
205). Plaintiff's final day of employment was on October
9, 2008, when she was terminated from her position as a
photographer/manager for violating company policy. (Tr. 46,
181). According to Plaintiff, she became disabled on March
22, 2009, after she “ha[d not] been able to
find employment since” she was terminated in October
2008. (Tr. 181).
daily activities consist of waking up and assisting her
children prepare for school. (Tr. 193). After Plaintiff
drives her children to school, she goes back home to
“sit on the couch.” (Id.) After several
hours, Plaintiff will stand up and get food from the kitchen.
(Id.) Plaintiff will then sit on the couch until she
drives to pick up her children from school. (Id.)
Upon her return, Plaintiff will then “flip flop”
on the couch until she goes to bed “around 1am -
3am.” (Id.) Plaintiff states that she can care
for her personal hygiene and dress, in addition to
“regularly” exercising four to five days per
week. (Tr. 556, 585, 746). Plaintiff smokes tobacco and
denies alcohol use. (Tr. 557).
claims that she suffers from an extensive list of
impairments, including fibromyalgia, migraine and tension
headaches, obesity, knee pain, anxiety disorder NOS, and
depressive disorder NOS. (Doc. 25 at 2). Plaintiff also
claims that she suffers from myalgia myositis, depression
with anxiety, fatigue, and possible thyroid disorder. (Tr.
156, 158, 181). Plaintiff takes an equally extensive number
of medications, including Tramadol, Trazodone, Effexor XR,
Soma, Ibuprofen, Omeprazole, Ranitidine, Meclizine, Frova,
Nortriptyline, Clindamycin topical, Retin-A gel topical. (Tr.
556-57). Plaintiff has sought treatment from a variety of
sources for a range of ailments, dating back to 2008 when
Plaintiff was treated for knee pain and depression. (Doc. 25
at 3). Physicians have prescribed Plaintiff the above-listed
medications, in addition to recommending water therapy for
physical pain. (Id. at 5). One physician determined
that Plaintiff has no work-related mental limitations,
(id. at 6), while another has deemed Plaintiff to be
“intelligent [and] articulate, ” (Tr. 677).
ALJ's decision to deny benefits will be overturned
“only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or
is based on legal error.” Magallanes v. Bowen,
881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation omitted).
“Substantial evidence” means more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).
inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, yields
such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the
conclusions reached by the ALJ.” Gallant v.
Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation
omitted). In determining whether there is substantial
evidence to support a decision, the Court considers the
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from
the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720.
“Where evidence is susceptible of more than one
rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which
must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ is
entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the
evidence.” Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453
(citations omitted); see Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This
is because “[t]he trier of fact 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 v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir.
1992); see Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th
is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court
must affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498,
501 (9th Cir. 1989); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). On the other hand, the Court “may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted).
the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and
making its own judgment as to whether Plaintiff is or is not
disabled. Rather, the Court's inquiry is constrained to
the reasons asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied upon
in support of those reasons. See Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).
Definition of Disability
qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security
Act, a claimant must show that, among other things, she is
“under a disability.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(a)(1)(E). The Social Security Act defines
“disability” as the “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). 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
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
Five-Step Evaluation Process
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4); see also Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721. A
finding of “not disabled” at any step in the
sequential process will end the inquiry. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proof at the
first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner
at the final step. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721. The
five steps are as follows:
First, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is
“doing substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not
the claimant is not gainfully employed, the ALJ next
determines whether the claimant has a “severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). To be considered severe, the
impairment must “significantly limit [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Basic work
activities are the “abilities and aptitudes to do most
jobs, ” such as lifting, carrying, reaching,
understanding, carrying out and remembering simple
instructions, responding appropriately to co-workers, and
dealing with changes in routine. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1521(b). Further, the impairment must either have lasted
for “a continuous period of at least twelve months,
” be expected to last for such a period, or be expected
“to result in death.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509
(incorporated by reference in 20 C.F.R. §