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Fernandez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 13, 2016

Gloria June Fernandez, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Background

         Fernandez 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.)

         On July 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.

         On 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.

         II. Legal Standard

         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).

         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 at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. 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 (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.

         At step 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.)

         At step 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.)

         IV. ...


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