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Boyle v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 15, 2017

Caitlyn Boyle, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Caitlyn Boyle 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 Boyle's Opening Brief, Defendant's Responsive Brief, and Boyle's Reply. (Docs. 16, 17, 18.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 12.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record submitted to the Court, this case is remanded for an award of benefits.


         Boyle filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on December 16, 2011. (Administrative Record (AR) 68, 69, 211, 213.) She alleged disability from March 23, 2011. (AR 211, 213.) Boyle's application was denied upon initial review (AR 68-89) and on reconsideration (AR 90-114). A hearing was held on May 21, 2014 (AR 34-67), after which the ALJ found that Boyle was not disabled because she could perform her past relevant work (AR 21-28). The Appeals Council denied Boyle's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


         Boyle was born on October 6, 1986, making her 24 years of age at the onset date of her alleged disability. (AR 211.) Boyle has past experience doing retail work and clerical work, as well as work in social services; she lasted work in 2011. (AR 256.)

         The ALJ found Boyle had one severe impairment of narcolepsy. (AR 23.) The ALJ cited Boyle's long history of polysubstance abuse but found it did not limit her ability to perform work activities. (AR 24.) The ALJ determined Boyle did not have any limitations based on psychological conditions. (Id.) The ALJ concluded Boyle had the RFC to perform work at all exertional levels, limited to never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and no work at unprotected heights or around hazardous moving machinery. (AR 25.) The ALJ concluded at Step Four, after testimony from a vocational expert, that Boyle could perform her past relevant work as a retail clerk or routine office clerk. (AR 27.)


         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 she (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 her from performing her 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).


         Boyle argues the ALJ committed five errors: (1) he failed to base his decision on any medical evidence; (2) he gave undue weight to Boyle's drug use; and (3) he failed to find her mental impairments severe.

         Medical Evidence

         Boyle challenges the ALJ's treatment of the medical opinions in the record. The record contains several opinions by her treating physician, Dr. Philip Eichling. On June 3, 2010, Dr. Eichling opined that Boyle could participate in an externship if allowed to arrive 15 minutes late and “take naps or breaks if needed.” (AR 308.) In September and October 2012, Dr. Eichling opined that, due to her narcolepsy (and depression), Boyle could not work at a “standard” job and was disabled. (AR 340, 341.) On April 29, 2014, Dr. ...

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