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Russell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 25, 2017

John Russell, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable Lynnette C. Kimmins United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff John Russell 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 Russell's Opening Brief, Defendant's Brief, and Russell'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, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Russell filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on July 27, 2012. (Administrative Record (AR) 140.) He alleged disability from May 13, 2012. (Id.) Russell's application was denied upon initial review (AR 65-78) and on reconsideration (AR 79-93). A hearing was held on May 19, 2014 (AR 28-64), after which the ALJ found that Russell was not disabled because he could perform other work available in the national economy (AR 13-23). The Appeals Council denied Russell's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)

         FACTUAL HISTORY

         Russell was born on January 24, 1961, making him 51 years of age at the onset date of his alleged disability. (AR 148.) Russell worked as a carpenter until 2009. (AR 162.) After he was laid off in 2009, he unsuccessfully sought work up until he applied for disability. (AR 35-37.)

         The ALJ found Russell had several severe impairments: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, lupus, and headaches. (AR 15.) The ALJ determined Russell had the RFC to perform light work, except he could only frequently climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (AR 18.) The ALJ concluded at Step Five, based on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines and the testimony of a Vocational Expert, that Russell could perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 22-23.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate DIB claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; 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). 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).

         “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).

         DISCUSSION

         Russell argues the ALJ committed three errors: (1) he failed to find additional severe impairments at Step Two; (2) he failed to attribute any limitations to Russell's headaches; and (3) he improperly evaluated Russell's credibility.

         Step Two

         Russell argues the ALJ failed to find, at Step Two, that his hand tremors and mental ...


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