United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable John Z. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge.
Mary Frances Weller seeks review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's decision denying her
application for disability and disability insurance benefits
under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1; Doc. 15.) For the
reasons below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's
September 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability and disability insurance benefits.
151-52.) Plaintiff alleged that she became unable to work on
June 1, 2011. (Id. at 151.) Plaintiff alleged
disability based on a variety of conditions, including
degenerative disc disease, three bulging back discs, numbness
and tingling in arms, loss of circulation in lower
extremities, severe bone pain, hypertrophic cardio myopathy,
liver tumors, chronic sinus infections, chronic fatigue, and
carpel tunnel syndrome. (Id. at 65-66.)
Plaintiff's application was initially denied on January
23, 2013, and denied upon reconsideration on August 13, 2013.
(Id. at 91-93, 95-97.)
to Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on January 10,
2014, before Administrative Law Judge Patricia A. Bucci
(ALJ). (Id. at 46-63.) In a decision dated March 26,
2014, the ALJ ruled Plaintiff is not entitled to disability
benefits because she is “not disabled under sections
216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.”
(Id. at 35.) The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
(Id. at 1-4.)
exhausted the administrative review process, on December 1,
2015, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's
decision by filing a Complaint in this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1.) On June 6, 2016, Plaintiff
filed an Opening Brief, seeking remand of this case to the
Social Security Administration for an award of benefits.
(Doc. 15.) On July 6, 2016, Defendant filed a Response Brief
in support of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 16.) On
July 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Reply Brief. (Doc. 17.)
Standard of Review
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), provides for
judicial review of the Commissioner's disability benefits
determinations. 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); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d
172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). “‘Substantial
evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than
a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d
1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the Court considers the record as a
whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that
which detracts from the ALJ's conclusions.
Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720; Tylitzki v.
Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993). The ALJ is
responsible for resolving conflicts, ambiguity, and
determining credibility. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d
1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The Court “must uphold
the ALJ's decision where the evidence is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation.”
Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039. “However, a
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific
quantum of supporting evidence.'” Orn, 495
F.3d at 630 (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin.,
466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). The 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). Similarly, the Court reviews “only the
reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination
and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not
rely.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1010
(9th Cir. 2014).
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation Process
eligible for Social Security benefits, a claimant must show
an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d
1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). A person is under a disability
if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of
such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous
work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
follows a five-step evaluation process to determine whether
an applicant is disabled under the Social Security Act:
The five-step process for disability determinations begins,
at the first and second steps, by asking whether a claimant
is engaged in “substantial gainful activity” and
considering the severity of the claimant's impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(ii). If the
inquiry continues beyond the second step, the third step asks
whether the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals a listing under 20 C.F.R. pt.
404, subpt. P, app. 1 and meets the duration requirement.
See Id . § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If so, the
claimant is considered disabled and benefits are awarded,
ending the inquiry. See Id . If the process
continues beyond the third step, the fourth and fifth steps
consider the claimant's “residual functional
capacity” in determining whether the claimant can still
do past relevant work or make an adjustment to other work.
See Id . § 416.920(a)(4)(iv)-(v).
Kennedy v. Colvin, 738 F.3d 1172, 1175 (9th Cir.
2013). “The burden of proof is on the claimant at steps
one through four, but shifts to the Commissioner at step
five.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin.,
554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009).
the five-step evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff is not disabled and is not entitled to benefits.
(AR at 23-35.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date of the disability. (Id. at 25.) At step
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: asthma, coronary artery disease status post
stent, stage two chronic kidney disease, myofascial pain
syndrome, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, venous
insufficiency, and lumbar degenerative disc disease.
(Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff 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 27-28.)
four, the ALJ found the following:
[Plaintiff] has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except [Plaintiff] can only
frequently balance, but can occasionally climb, stoop,
crouch, kneel, and crawl. [Plaintiff] will need to avoid
concentrated exposure to non-weather related extreme cold
and/or extreme heat. In addition, [Plaintiff] must avoid
dangerous machinery with moving mechanical parts and
unprotected heights that are high or exposed.
(Id. at 28.)
further found that Plaintiff is able to perform her past
relevant work as an office manager and accounting clerk.
(Id. at 35.) Given that finding, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, from . . . [the ...