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Carroll v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 29, 2017

Richard Carroll Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.


          Honorable Lynnette C. Kimmins United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Richard Carroll 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 Carroll's Opening Brief, Defendant's Responsive Brief, and Carroll's Reply. (Docs. 17, 18, 19.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record submitted to the Court, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         Carroll filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on November 29, 2011. (Administrative Record (AR) 201, 205.) He alleged disability from November 18, 2010. (AR 40.) Carroll's application was denied upon initial review (AR 65-104) and on reconsideration (AR 105-50). A hearing was held on January 23, 2014 (AR 36-64), after which the ALJ found that Carroll was not disabled because he could perform other work available in the national economy (AR 16-26). The Appeals Council denied Carroll's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


         Carroll was born on November 4, 1967, making him 43 years of age at the onset date of his alleged disability. (AR 201.) Carroll has past experience working in construction and as a bouncer at a bar. (AR 226, 244.) He stopped working in 2006, after an on-the-job injury.

         The ALJ found Carroll had two severe impairments, degenerative disc disease and left shoulder pain. (AR 18.) The ALJ determined Carroll has the RFC to perform light work but can only reach overhead occasionally with his left arm. (AR 20.) The ALJ concluded at Step Five, based on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, that Carroll could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 25.)


         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).


         Carroll argues the ALJ committed four errors: (1) she ignored substantial evidence of Carroll's impairments and limitations; (2) she improperly weighed his activities of daily living; (3) she improperly imposed her own medical opinions; and (4) she failed to develop the record.


         At Step Two, the ALJ determined that Carroll had two severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and left shoulder pain. (AR 18.) A finding of disability requires an “inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. A physical or mental impairment must last or be expected to last for 12 or more months and must be “established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by your statement of symptoms.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1508, ...

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