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Ronald Arthur Holliday v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 7, 2017

Ronald Arthur Holliday, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Ronald Arthur Holliday's appeal of the Social Security Administration's decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the decision.


         On November 27, 2012, Ronald Arthur Holliday applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2010. (Tr. 21.) Holliday's claim was denied on July 5, 2013. (Tr. 79-96.) He then appealed to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 21.) A hearing was initially held on July 1, 2014, but postponed until November 4, 2014, so that Holliday could obtain counsel. (Tr. 39-76.)

         In evaluating whether Holliday was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] At step one, the ALJ determined that Holliday had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (Tr. 23.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Holliday suffered from severe impairments of “(1) Hypertension; (2) Status post cerebral vascular accident (CVA) and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs); (3) Cardiomyopathy; (4) Seizure disorder; and (5) Degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine.” (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration's listed impairments. (Tr. 24.)

         The ALJ then made the following determination of Holliday's residual functional capacity (“RFC”):[2]

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that the claimant can occasionally bend, squat, and kneel; cannot climb ladders or scaffolds; cannot work in hazardous work areas; cannot work in temperature extremes; and cannot perform complex tasks, such that he is limited to work with a svp of 2 or less.

         (Tr. 25.) At step four, the ALJ found that the “demands of the claimant's past relevant work exceed the residual functional capacity.” (Tr. 28-29.) The ALJ therefore proceeded to step five.

         The ALJ began his step five analysis by noting that “[p]rior to the established disability onset date, the claimant was a younger individual age 18-49 [but on] November 21, 2013, the claimant's age category changed to an individual of advanced age.” (Tr. 29.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that prior to November 21, 2013, “there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed, ” but that there were no such jobs after that point.[3] (Tr. 29-30.) The ALJ therefore determined that Holliday was not disabled through December 31, 2012-the date last insured-and was therefore ineligible for disability benefits, but that he was eligible for supplemental security income. (Tr. 31.)

         Holliday appealed to the Appeals Council. (Tr. 15.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision on disability benefits, (Tr. 2-5), and reversed the ALJ's decision on supplemental security income, (Tr. 6-12).[4] Holliday filed the complaint underlying this action on September 12, 2016, seeking this Court's review of the Social Security Administration's denial of benefits. (Doc. 1.)


         I. Standard of Review

         A 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).

         The ALJ 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).

         II. Analysis

         Holliday argues that: (1) the ALJ's RFC is not supported by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ erred in determining that Holliday was not fully credible; (3) the ALJ improperly discounted the testimony of Holliday's wife; and (4) the ALJ erred in giving little weight to a Functional Capacity Evaluation.

         A. The RFC Formulation

         Holliday asserts that the ALJ ignored substantial record evidence of impairments in formulating the Holliday's RFC. In part, Holliday cites as error the ALJ's treatment of the testimony of Holliday and his wife; whether the ALJ was correct in finding their testimony less than fully credible will be discussed in subsequent sections. But Holliday also asserts that the ALJ failed to consider the combined effect of Holliday's impairments on his ability to work. Specifically, he alleges that the ALJ failed to consider the effect of Holliday's seizures, TIAs, fatigue and hypertension.

         As an initial matter, the ALJ did discuss the effects of these impairments, (Tr. 26- 27), and included limitations based on his interpretation of the medical record as a whole. The ALJ recognized that Holliday suffered from “some degree of weakness and fatigue” that limited his ability to lift and carry objects, and additionally “include[d] a restriction as to working in hazardous areas due to the possibility of a seizure.” (Tr. 27.) He further recognized “ischemic changes of the brain that would reasonably limit the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities” and accordingly “conclude[d] that the claimant is unable to perform complex tasks, and is therefore limited to work with an svp of 2 or less.” (Id.)

         Moreover, while Holliday asserts that these impairments affected him more severely, the ALJ's interpretation is a reasonable interpretation of the evidence in the record. The ALJ noted that throughout 2010 and 2011, while Holliday suffered from hypertension, his exam findings revealed no disabling symptoms of the hypertension.[5](Tr. 27, 473, 475, 477, 479, 480, 788, 793, 794, 837, 841.) Nor does Holliday point to any such symptoms. Holliday cites a function report describing his fatigue, (Doc. 20 at 12), but this function report makes no mention of hypertension at all, (Tr. 240-47). Holliday further asserts in his reply brief that “[h]ypertension can cause multiple effects on different areas of the body.” (Doc. 22 at 2.) But that general proposition does not mean that Holliday suffered from any such effects.

         As for the seizures, TIAs and fatigue, the ALJ reasonably interpreted the medical evidence of record to indicate that Holliday suffered from “some degree of weakness and fatigue” but not to the extent Holliday alleged. He noted a July 2010 consultative exam that was “entirely normal.” (Tr. 27, 512-16.) The notes of that examination report that Holliday was “able to shower for himself” and “perform housework and yardwork, just being mindful of his left upper extremity weakness.” (Tr. 512.) The ALJ further noted that while Holliday was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and prescribed medication, he never went to the emergency room for seizures or complained of frequent seizures; and while he alleged having several TIAs a month in July 2012, (Tr. 785), there was no support in the records for the disabling symptoms Holliday alleged. (Tr. 27.)

         The ALJ thus reasonably interpreted the evidence of the medical records in formulating the RFC. Holliday's assertion that the RFC limitations should have included the limitations to which Holliday and his wife testified will be discussed in the following sections.

         B. ...

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