United States District Court, D. Arizona
MICHELLE H. BUMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiff Roberta Lynn Bromley's
appeal from the Social Security Administration's final
decision to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits.
After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments
of the parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.
August 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
insurance benefits alleging disability beginning January 20,
2005. Her application was denied initially and
on reconsideration. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge. A hearing was held on
December 7, 2009, and the ALJ issued a decision on April 10,
2010, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled from the
alleged onset date through the date last insured. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff then sought judicial review of the ALJ's
decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in the United
States District Court - District of Arizona.
April 8, 2013, the district court found that the ALJ erred in
failing to discuss Plaintiff's mental impairments in
making the RFC determination and failing to set forth clear
and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's
subjective complaint testimony. Thus, the court vacated the
ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further
held a second hearing pursuant to the district court's
remand order and issued a decision on March 18, 2014. The ALJ
again found Plaintiff not under a disability from August 1,
2006 (the amended alleged onset date) through the date last
insured. The record reflects that Plaintiff filed written
exceptions to the March 18, 2014 decision and the Appeals
Council remanded the matter back to the ALJ for additional
hearing was held on May 20, 2015, and on July 1, 2015, the
ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not under a
disability at any time from the alleged onset date through
the last date insured. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff
then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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). A 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.
See 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. See
id. In determining whether substantial evidence supports
a decision, a court must consider the record as a whole and
may not affirm simply by isolating a “specific quantum
of supporting evidence.” Id. As a general
rule, “[w]here the evidence is susceptible to more than
one rational interpretation, one of which supports the
ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be
upheld.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954
(9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).
error principles apply in this context. See Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012).
An error is harmless if there remains substantial evidence
supporting the ALJ's decision and the error does not
affect the ultimate nondisability determination. See
id. The claimant usually bears the burden of showing
that an error is harmful. See id. at 1111.
is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 1995). In reviewing the ALJ's reasoning, the court
is “not deprived of [its] faculties for drawing ...
inferences from the ALJ's opinion.” Magallanes
v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9thCir. 1989).
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
order to be eligible for disability or social security
benefits, a claimant must demonstrate 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). An ALJ
determines a claimant's eligibility for benefits by
following a five-step sequential evaluation:
(1) determine whether the applicant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity”;
(2) determine whether the applicant has a medically severe
impairment or combination of impairments;
(3) determine whether the applicant's impairment equals
one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner
acknowledges as so severe as to preclude the applicant from
engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(4) if the applicant's impairment does not equal one of
the listed impairments, determine whether the applicant is
capable of performing his or her past relevant work;
(5) if the applicant is not capable of performing his or her
past relevant work, determine whether the applicant is able
to perform other work in the national economy in view of his
age, education, and work experience.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987)
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920). At the
fifth stage, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner
to show that the claimant can perform other substantial
gainful work. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956
(9th Cir. 1993).
one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date
through the date last insured. (Tr. at 594.) At step two, she
found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
status post left Achilles tendon transfer, fibromyalgia, and
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Tr. at 595-597.) At
step three, the ALJ stated that through the date last insured
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 of the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. at
597-98.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ
found that through the date last insured Plaintiff retained
the residual functional capacity “to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except claimant could
occasionally push or pull with the bilateral upper
extremities. Claimant could occasionally operate foot
controls with the bilateral lower extremities. Claimant could
never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but could
occasionally climb ramps or stairs. Claimant could frequently
balance, stoop, and kneel. Claimant could occasionally crouch
and crawl. Claimant could have no more than occasional
exposure to non-weather-related extreme temperatures, such as
extreme cold and extreme heat. Claimant should have no more
than occasional exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as
fumes, odors, dusts and gases. Claimant should have no more
than occasional exposure to poorly ventilated areas,
dangerous machinery, with moving mechanical parts and
unprotected heights.” (Tr. at ...