United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable John Z. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge
Jacinto Johnny Aguirre seeks review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's decision denying his social
security benefits under the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1;
Doc. 12.) For the reasons below, the Court will vacate the
Commissioner's decision and remand this matter for
further proceedings consistent with this Order.
October 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability and disability insurance benefits.
253-68.) Plaintiff alleged an amended disability onset date
of July 1, 2010. (Id.) Plaintiff's
applications were initially denied on February 4, 2013, and
upon reconsideration on July 8, 2013. (Id. at
196-99, 202-08.) On July 16, 2013 Plaintiff filed a written
request for hearing. (Id. at 209-10.) Subsequently,
Plaintiff's application was set for a video hearing,
which was held on June 19, 2014. (Id. at 36.) In a
decision dated August 4, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Laura Speck Havens denied Plaintiff's application for
benefits. (Id. at 20-27.) On August 29, 2014, 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 1-6.)
6, 2016, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's
decision by filing a Complaint with this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1.) On September 13, 2016,
Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief, seeking remand of this case
to the Social Security Administration for an award of
benefits. (Doc. 12.) On October 13, 2016, Defendant filed a
Response Brief in support of the Commissioner's decision.
(Doc. 13.) On October 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Reply
Brief. (Doc. 14.)
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 ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not “disabled,
” as the term is defined in 42 U.S.C. §§ 416,
423. (AR 26.) In following the five-step sequential
evaluation process used for determining whether an individual
is disabled, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4),
the ALJ concluded at step one that Plaintiff “has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2010,
the amended onset date.” (Id. at 20.) At step
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, obesity,
hypertension, asthma, and arthritis.” (Id.) At
step three, the ALJ found that 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
404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526.).” (Id. at
22.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a), except that Plaintiff:
is able to sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour work day, stand
for 2 hours out of an 8-hour work day, and walk for 2 hours
out of an 8-hour work day; [Plaintiff] requires a cane for
ambulation; [Plaintiff] is able to occasionally lift and
carry 10 lbs., and frequently lift and carry 10 lbs.;
[Plaintiff] can occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop but
never climb ladders, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and [Plaintiff]
is able to work in environments without ...