United States District Court, D. Arizona
Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge
Gloria Fernandez seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental
security income and disability insurance benefits. 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 is affirmed.
is a 64 year-old female with an associate's degree. (A.R.
43.) She previously worked as a billing associate, nurse, and
physician's assistant. She alleges disability based on
high cholesterol, arthritis, herniated discs, sciatic nerve,
depression, anxiety, gout, and high blood pressure.
(Id. at 252.)
16, 2012, Fernandez applied for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income, alleging disability
beginning March 1, 2012. (Id. at 11.) On December 3,
2013, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a
hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.
February 11, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision that Fernandez
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. The Appeals Counsel denied Fernandez's request for
review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision
the Commissioner's final decision. On September 25, 2015,
Fernandez sought review by this Court.
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
Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process
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 at step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
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 (RFC) 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 RFC, 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.
one, the ALJ found that Fernandez meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31,
2015, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 1, 2012. (A.R. 23.) At step two, the ALJ
found that Fernandez has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease and spondylosis status post
laminectomy and discectomy, obesity, and degenerative joint
disease. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined
that Fernandez does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment
listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404.
(Id. at 25.)
four, the ALJ found that Fernandez has the RFC to perform
“the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a).” (Id. at 26.)
Accordingly, given her RFC, the ALJ concluded that Fernandez
is capable of performing her past work as a billing clerk and
medical billing clerk. (Id. at 30.)