United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge.
before the Court is Plaintiff Jamie Lynne Kobyluck's
appeal of the Social Security Administration's decision
to deny her benefits, (Doc. 2). For the following reasons,
the Court remands for further proceedings.
January 2, 2014, Mrs. Kobyluck filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset
date of July 8, 2012. (Tr. 23.) Her claim was initially
denied on July 21, 2014 and it was denied again upon
reconsideration on January 16, 2015. (Id.) Mrs.
Kobyluck then filed a written request for a hearing and she
testified before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Earl C. Cates, Jr. (Id.) On November 30, 2015 the
ALJ issued a decision finding Mrs. Kobyluck not disabled.
evaluating whether Mrs. Kobyluck was disabled, the ALJ
undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining
disability. (Tr. 23-24.) At step one, the ALJ found
that Mrs. Kobyluck had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 8, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Tr.
25.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Mrs. Kobyluck
suffered from multiple sclerosis (“MS”) and type
II diabetes, both of which are severe impairments. (Tr. 25.)
However, at the same step, the ALJ also determined that the
claimant's memory impairment, that is related to her MS,
and her alleged neuropathy were non-severe ailments. The ALJ
made this determination at step two even though the medical
records determined that the claimant did suffer from memory
impairment that resulted from her MS and that she did have
neuropathy secondary to her diabetes. (Tr. 25-28.) At step
three, the ALJ determined that none of Mrs. Kobyluck's
severe impairments equaled or met the severity of any of the
Social Security Administration's listed impairments.
point, the ALJ reached step four and made a determination of
Mrs. Kobyluck's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”),  concluding that Mrs. Kobyluck could
“perform the full range of light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) except she must avoid heights, scaffolding,
ladders, and temperature extremes based on multiple
sclerosis.” (Tr. 28.)
Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-3.)
Mrs. Kobyluck filed the complaint underlying this action on
June 20, 2016, seeking this Court's review of the
ALJ's denial of benefits. (Doc. 2.) The matter is now
fully briefed before this Court. (Docs. 21, 22.)
Standard of Review
reviewing federal court need only address the issues raised
by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision.
See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir.
2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability
benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by
substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial
evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted).
“Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which,
considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. (quotation omitted).
is responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities.
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995). “When the evidence before the ALJ is subject to
more than one rational interpretation, we must defer to the
ALJ's conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This
is so because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court
must resolve conflicts in 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) (citations
omitted). However, the Court “must consider the entire
record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a
‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.' ”
Id. (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498,
501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Nor may the Court “affirm the
ALJ's . . . decision based on evidence that the ALJ did
not discuss.” Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d
871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).
The ALJ Erred in Finding Kobyluck's Neurocognitive
Impairments to be Non-Severe
step two, the ALJ assesses whether the claimant has a
medically severe impairment or combination of impairments
that significantly limits his ability to do basic work
activities.” Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683,
686 (9th Cir. 2005). This step is generally seen as a
“de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless
claims.” Smolen v. Chater,80 F.3d 1273, 1290
(9th Cir. 1996). Thus, an ALJ should only dismiss claims at
this step “when his conclusion is ‘clearly
established by medical evidence.'” Webb,
433 F.3d at 687 (quoting S.S.R. 85-28). Furthermore, during
this stage, “the ALJ must consider the combined effect
of all of the claimant's impairments on her ability to
function, without regard to whether each alone was
sufficiently severe.” Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1290.
At step two, the ALJ determined that the claimant had two