United States District Court, D. Arizona
MURRAY SNOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff Wendy Jo Leach,
which challenges the Social Security Administration's
decision to deny disability benefits and supplemental
security income. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons set forth below,
this Court affirms the findings of the ALJ.
September 18, 2012, Ms. Leach protectively filed an
application for disability benefits as well as an application
for supplemental security income. (Tr. 24.) Both applications
alleged a disability onset date of October 1, 2009.
(Id.) Both claims were initially denied on March 4,
2013, and they were denied again upon reconsideration on
September 27, 2013. (Id.) Ms. Leach then filed a
written request for a hearing and she testified before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Randolph E.
Schum. (Id.) On March 19, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision finding Ms. Leach not disabled. (Tr. 39.)
evaluating whether Ms. Leach was disabled, the ALJ undertook
the five-step sequential evaluation for determining
disability. (Tr. 25-26.) At step one, the ALJ found
that Ms. Leach had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 1, 2009, the alleged onset date. (Tr.
26.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Ms. Leach suffered
from the following severe impairments: pseudo seizures,
obesity, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 26.) 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. 28.)
point, the ALJ reached step four and made a determination of
Ms. Leach's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”),  concluding that Ms. Leach could
“perform light work “lifting and carrying 20
pounds occasionally and  pounds frequently” and
that Ms. Leach “is able to understand, remember, and
carry out simple instructions and non- detailed tasks,
” although she “should not work in a setting
which includes constant and/or regular contact with the
general public” or “more than infrequent handling
of customer complaints.” (Tr. 30.) In making these
findings, the ALJ relied upon the opinion of examining
physician Dr. Mather, “specifically the assessment that
there was evidence of malingering.” (Tr. 35.) The ALJ
gave no weight to the other examining physician, Dr. Geary,
or the nurse practitioner, Mrs. Naomi Brown. (Tr. 36.)
Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-4.)
Ms. Leach filed the complaint underlying this action on
October 4, 2016, seeking this Court's review of the
ALJ's denial of benefits. (Doc. 1.) The matter is now
fully briefed before this Court. (Docs. 13, 14.)
Standard of Review
reviewing federal court will 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. See
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
presented with conflicting medical opinions, the ALJ must
determine credibility and resolve the conflict.”
Batson, 359 F.3d at 1195 (9th Cir. 2004). To reject
the testimony of Dr. Geary, a contradicted examining
physician, an “ALJ must provide specific, legitimate
reasons based on substantial evidence in the record.”
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir.
2012). The ALJ noted that Dr. Geary's examination
conflicted with another examining psychologist, Dr. Mather.
(Tr. 35-36.) Dr. Mather performed a series of various tests
to determine if Ms. Leach was malingering, and while he did
not find “definitive evidence” of malingering, he
ultimately determined that “[h]er performance across
tests of effort/malingering calls into question this
Claimant's performance across all neuropsychological
measures administered.” (Tr. 451.) Dr. Geary had a
different assessment of her performance when he examined her
not long before the hearing, finding that “Ms. Leach
extended proper and genuine effort at all times” during
her exam. (Tr. 1763.) The ALJ ...