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Antunez v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 1, 2017

Maria Antunez, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          James A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the denial of her application for social security disability benefits by the Defendant.

         I. Standard of Review

         The decision of Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to deny benefits will be overturned “only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence” means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).

         “The inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached by the ALJ.” Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support a decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. “Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence.” Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453 (citations omitted); see Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This is because “[t]he trier of fact 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 v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).

         II. Issues on Appeal

         On appeal, Plaintiff raises three claims of error: 1) ALJ erred in concluding Plaintiff could perform her past work; 2) the ALJ erred in not crediting Plaintiff's treating physicians; and 3) the ALJ erred in not crediting Plaintiff's symptom testimony. Although in the opening brief Plaintiff pursues all three claims of error, in her reply brief, she relies only on the first theory.

         A. Plaintiff's past work

         As to Plaintiff's first claim of error - that the ALJ erred in concluding that Plaintiff could perform her past work - Defendant concedes error. (Doc. 18 at 3). However, Defendant argues that the error was harmless. (Id.).

         Specifically, the ALJ found that:

The record indicated that the claimant worked as a cashier/checker from June of 1997 until January of 2000, and the claimant worked as a garment sorter from January of 2003 until April of 2003. The record also indicated that the claimant received income at substantial gainful activity level at these positions.

(Doc. 13-3 at 17).

         The undisputed facts on appeal are that, from 1997-2000, Plaintiff worked as a meat packer, not as a cashier. (Doc. 19 at 3). Plaintiff argues, and Defendant does not dispute, that the cashier position would be light work, at level 3, and the meat packer position would be medium work, at level 2. (Doc. 16 at 25). Further, while Plaintiff did work as a garment sorter from January 2003 to April 2003, her income at that position did not rise to the substantial gainful activity level. (Doc. 19 at 3). Thus, the ALJ's factual findings regarding the 1997-2000 job and the 2003 job are not supported by the record.

         Defendant argues, however, that these errors were harmless because Plaintiff worked at a job as a cashier and garment sorter in 2006 and 2007 and earned income at the substantial gainful activity level in that position. (Doc. 18 at 4). Thus, Defendant concludes that while the ALJ's ...


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