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Hernandez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 13, 2017

Leticia Anna Hernandez, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Leticia Anna Hernandez's appeal of the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her benefits. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court remands for further proceedings.


         On March 9, 2012, Leticia Anna Hernandez applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2011. (Tr. 63-64.) Hernandez's claim was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 122-36.) She then appealed to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 137.) The ALJ conducted a hearing on the matter on December 3, 2013. (Tr. 31.)

         In evaluating whether Hernandez was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] At step one, the ALJ determined that Hernandez had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (Tr. 14.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Hernandez suffered from severe impairments of “migraine; headache; [and] lumbar disc disease.” (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration's listed impairments. (Tr. 18.)

         The ALJ then made the following determination of Hernandez's residual functional capacity (“RFC”).[2]

[Hernandez] has the residual functional capacity to perform light level work; she cannot use ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequently use ramps or stairs, balance, kneel, crouch and crawl; she should avoid concentrated exposure to noise, i.e., limited to the noise level in a normal office setting; she should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration; she should avoid even moderate exposure to hazards, being commonly defined as either unprotected heights [or] dangerous machinery; she can attend and concentrate in 2-hour blocks of time throughout an 8-hour workday with the 2 customary 10-15 [minute] breaks and the customary 30-60 minutes lunch period.

(Tr. 19.) The ALJ therefore found that Hernandez retained the RFC to perform her past relevant work as a cashier, data entry clerk, file clerk and collector. (Tr. 22.) In the alternative, at step five, the ALJ determined that there were a significant number of other jobs in the national economy that Hernandez could perform despite her limitations. (Id.)

         On September 10, 2015, the Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-5.) Hernandez filed the complaint underlying this action on November 10, 2015, seeking this Court's review of the ALJ's denial of benefits. (Doc. 1.) The matter is now fully briefed before this Court. (Docs. 15, 16, 17.)


         I. Standard of Review

         A reviewing federal court need only address the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). “When the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one rational interpretation, we must defer to the ALJ's conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in 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) (citations omitted). However, the Court “must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Id. (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Nor may the Court “affirm the ALJ's . . . decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not discuss.” Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).

         II. Analysis

         Hernandez argues that the ALJ erred by (A) effectively rejecting the opinion of treating physician Dr. Doorani and (B) ...

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