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Reyes v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 20, 2016

Francisco Vasquez Reyes, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Honorable Lynnette C. Kimmins United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Francisco Reyes filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). (Doc. 1.) Before the Court are Reyes's Opening Brief, Defendant's Brief, and Reyes's Reply. (Docs. 14, 16, 17.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 11.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record submitted to the Court, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.


         Reyes originally filed applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), which were denied August 29, 2012. (Administrative Record (AR) 244.) He filed again on November 29, 2012. (AR 220, 222, 244.) He alleged disability from March 2, 2009. (AR 220.) Reyes's second applications for SSI and DIB were denied upon initial review (AR 73-107) and on reconsideration (AR 109-44). A hearing was held on January 15, 2014 (AR 41-72), after which the ALJ found that Reyes was not disabled. (AR 22-34.) The Appeals Council considered additional records but denied Reyes's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1-6)


         Reyes was born on January 3, 1977, making him 32 years of age at the onset date of his alleged disability. (AR 220.) He has a high school diploma and did some college courses at Piedmont College. (AR 44.) His last employment lasted a few years as a driver and delivery man for Table Talk, but he had difficulties there and he was let go. (AR 45, 47-48, 51.)

         The ALJ found Reyes had the following severe impairments: adjustment disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, history of a learning disability, and anxiety disorder. (AR 24.) The ALJ concluded Reyes had the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform:

A full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant is able to meet the basic mental and emotional demands of competitive, remunerative, unskilled work including the abilities on a sustained basis to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; make simple work-related decisions; respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work situations; deal with routine changes in a work setting; and would do best in work settings requiring minimal social interaction. Additionally, his understanding and memory abilities are moderately limited; his verbal intelligence is limited but he can understand basic instructions; he can register work-like locations and procedures; his memory data makes it clear he is intact for registering organized verbal information and for registering visual spatial information that he has to process graphically; he is low average to borderline for learning unintegrated verbal information even when it is repeated and for learning the spatial features of visual detail; his sustained concentration and persistence abilities are not significantly limited; he can carry out simple instructions; he can make simple work-related decisions; he can manage a routine without supervisions; he can stay focused for an extended period of time unless he has to manage an environment where he has to move his focus around efficiently; he can maintain a pace without difficulty; and he can work around others without any difficulty. Further, the claimant has a weakness in working memory and attention problems and will require accommodations, including extended time for test taking and test taking in a room free from distractions; he may take additional time to learn required tasks; he has difficulty remembering verbal instructions when more than one or two tasks are required at a time; and he may benefit from a visual demonstration of the sequence of tasks along with a written list of required tasks whenever possible.

(AR 28.) The ALJ concluded Reyes could not perform his past relevant work but could perform other work, such as janitor/cleaner. (AR 32-33.)


         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate SSI and DIB claims. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-462 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing he (1) is not working; (2) has a severe physical or mental impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; and (4) claimant's RFC precludes him from performing his past work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). If the Commissioner conclusively finds the claimant “disabled” or “not disabled” at any point in the five-step process, she does not proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).

         “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989)). The findings of the Commissioner are meant to be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992)). The court may overturn the decision to deny benefits only “when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001). This is so because the ALJ “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, 981 F.2d at 1019 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 400 (1971)); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner's decision, however, “cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Reviewing courts must consider the evidence that supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir. 1975).


         Reyes argues three issues to the Court: (1) the ALJ erred in relying upon the vocational expert's testimony because she did not fully understand the ALJ's hypothetical; (2) the ALJ failed to conclude that Reyes had a respiratory ...

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