United States District Court, D. Arizona
Virginia E. Hamm, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
V. Wake Senior United States District Judge.
Virginia E. Hamm seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”), which denied her disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income under
sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social
Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) is supported by substantial
evidence and is not based on legal error, the
Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.
was born in January 1958. She has a high school education and
has completed 2 years of college. She performed temporary
office work and worked as an office manager from 2000 to
2004, as an office assistant in 2005, and in customer service
from 2005 to 2009. She was laid off in June 2009 and
continued to look for office work until October 2011.
application for disability insurance benefits, Plaintiff
alleged numerous impairments including inability to walk on
her own; inability to sit or stand for long periods due to
pain in her legs; nerve damage to arms, legs, hips, and feet;
lack of concentration due to medications; and chronic dry,
itchy skin. Plaintiff also indicated that although she
stopped working for other reasons, she believed that as of
October 1, 2010 (amended to 2011) her conditions became
severe enough to keep her from working. At the time of her
application Plaintiff reported her height as 5'7”
and weight as 248 lbs.
March 2011 and July 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging
disability beginning October 1, 2011. On August 15, 2014, she
appeared with her attorney and testified at a video hearing
before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On
November 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision
the Commissioner's final decision. On April 18, 2016,
Plaintiff sought review by this Court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district 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). Moreover,
“when claimants are represented by counsel, they must
raise all issues and evidence at their administrative
hearings to preserve them on appeal.” Meanel v.
Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1115 (9th Cir. 1999). Failure to
do so will only be excused when necessary to avoid a manifest
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). Substantial evidence is
more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and
relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a
whole. Id. In determining whether substantial
evidence supports a decision, the court must consider the
record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a
“specific quantum of supporting evidence.”
Id. Generally, when the evidence is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation, courts must uphold the
ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences
reasonably drawn from the record. Molina v. Astrue,
674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “Overall, the
standard of review is highly deferential.” Rounds
v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th
FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the
Social Security Act, the ALJ follows a five-step process. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The claimant bears the burden of
proof on the first four steps, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. At step two, the ALJ
determines whether the claimant has a severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If not, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. At step three, the ALJ
considers whether the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals an
impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is
automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the
ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the
claimant's residual functional capacity and determines
whether the claimant is still capable of performing past
relevant work. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, the claimant
is not disabled and the inquiry ends. Id. If not,
the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final step, where he
determines whether the claimant can perform any other work
based on the claimant's residual functional capacity,
age, education, and work experience. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
Id. If not, the claimant is disabled. Id.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2014, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 1, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the cervical, thoracic, and
lumbar spine; peripheral neuropathy; and morbid obesity. At
step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:
has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a).
Specifically, the claimant is able to lift 10 pounds
frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; stand or walk two
hours out of an eight-hour day; sit six hours out of an
eight-hour day; and occasionally balance, stoop, crouch,
kneel, crawl, and ...