United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE JOHN Z. BOYLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Raquel Alina Cervantez seeks review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's decision denying her
application for disability benefits under the Social Security
Act. (Doc. 1; Doc. 17.) For the reasons below, the Court will
vacate the Commissioner's decision and remand this matter
for an award of benefits.
16, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for
disability benefits. (AR 141.) Plaintiff asserts disability
beginning on December 30, 2005. Plaintiff's application
was initially denied on December 22, 2014, and upon
reconsideration on June 1, 2015. (Id. at 98-101,
104-07.) Plaintiff requested a hearing which took place on
March 24, 2016. (Id. at 119.) Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Laura S. Havens denied Plaintiff's
application for benefits in a decision dated April 26, 2016.
(Id. at 13-40.) On July 26, 2016 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 1-3.)
August 30, 2016, having exhausted the administrative review
process, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's
decision by filing a Complaint in this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). (Doc. 1.) On January
16, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief, seeking remand of
this case to the Social Security Administration for an award
of benefits. (Doc. 17.) Defendant filed a Response Brief in
support of the Commissioner's decision on February 15,
2017. (Doc. 18.) On February 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed a
reply brief. (Doc. 19.)
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 was not disabled and not entitled to benefits (AR
35.) At step one, the ALJ concluded the Plaintiff did not
engage in substantial gainful activity since the application
date. (Id. at 18.) At step two, the ALJ determined
the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
“degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia syndrome,
reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the right lower extremity,
depression, anxiety, [and] bipolar disorder (20 CFR
three, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff “does not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).” (Id.) At
step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 416.967(a) except:
[S]he can sit six hours out of an eight-hour work day; she
can stand or walk two hours out of an eight-hour workday. She
requires a sit/stand option every thirty minutes. She can
lift, carry, push and pull ten pounds frequently and twenty
pounds occasionally. She can never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She
can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
She can have only occasional exposure to heights, moving
machinery, humidity, temperature extremes, and vibrations.
She can occasionally understand, remember, and carry out
complex and detailed job instructions. She can only
occasionally interact with coworkers and the public.
(Id. at 20.)
further found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work.
(Id. at 34.) At step five, the ALJ found that
“[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functioning capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.” (Id.) The ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff “has not been under a