United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell, United States District Judge
Tara Patrice Shoman Papaccio seeks review under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which
denied her disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and
1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Because the
decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
is based on legal error, the Commissioner's decision will
be vacated and the matter remanded for further administrative
August 3, 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income, alleging
disability beginning April 6, 2011. On May 14, 2014, she
appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before
the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On September 2,
2014, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of
the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision.
district 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). 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). Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and
relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a
whole. Id. In determining whether substantial
evidence supports a decision, the court must consider the
record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a
“specific quantum of supporting evidence.”
Id. As a general rule, “[w]here the evidence
is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one
of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations
error principles apply in the Social Security Act context.
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir.
2012). An error is harmless if there remains substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ's decision and the error does
not affect the ultimate nondisability determination.
Id. The claimant usually bears the burden of showing
that an error is harmful. Id. at 1111.
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation Process.
determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the
Social Security Act, the ALJ follows a five-step process. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The claimant bears the burden of
proof on the first four steps, but at step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. At step two, the ALJ
determines whether the claimant has a “severe”
medically determinable physical or mental impairment. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If not, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. At step three, the ALJ
considers whether the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals an
impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is
automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the
ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determines whether the claimant is
still capable of performing past relevant work. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to
the fifth and final step, where he determines whether the
claimant can perform any other work based on the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not
disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2016, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 6, 2011. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff “has the following severe impairment:
disorder of the lumbar spine.” A.R. 32. 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. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
RFC to perform:
a wide range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)
except the claimant is limited to lifting-carrying 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; is limited to
standing-walking six hours and sitting four hours in an
eight-hour workday; must have a sit-stand option; is limited
to occasional climbing ramps and stairs and stooping; is
limited to frequent kneeling and crawling; can never climb
ropes, ladders, and scaffolds; is limited to pushing-pulling
20 pounds with the legs; and is limited to occasionally
working in extreme cold.
32-33. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is able to
perform past relevant work as an environmental supervisor of
garbage collection. A.R. 36. At step five, the ALJ concluded
that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff could perform. A.R. 37.
argues the ALJ's decision is defective for three reasons:
(1) the ALJ failed to give clear and convincing reasons for
rejecting Plaintiff's testimony, (2) the ALJ failed to
give legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the lay witness
statements of Plaintiff's husband, priest, and friend,
and (3) the ALJ failed to give any specific and legitimate
reason for rejecting the opinion of Dr. Neil McPhee, M.D.
Doc. 13 at 6-17. The Court will address each argument below.
The ALJ Erred in Evaluating ...