United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable Michelle H. Burns United States Magistrate Judge.
Haydee Morales 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.
March 1, 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income, alleging
disability beginning January 1, 2011. On September 24, 2014,
she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing
before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On
January 26, 2015, 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.
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). 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). 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. 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
ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, determining credibility, and resolving
ambiguities. 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
specific and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's
opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747,
755 (9th Cir. 1989).
The ALJ's Five-Step 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 at step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. 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
(“RFC”) 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 RFC, age, education, and work experience.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not
disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2017, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 1, 2012. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity,
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, obstructive sleep
apnea, lumbar spondylosis, right shoulder tendonitis and
restrictive airway disease. The ALJ found, as nonsevere
impairments, Plaintiff's reported hearing loss,
headaches, anxiety, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive
disorder. 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
Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. At step four,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform:
Light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She
can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl and climb
ramps and stairs. She can frequently reach overhead with her
dominant right upper extremity, and frequently handle and
finger, bilaterally. She must avoid concentrated exposure to
fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation.
further found that Plaintiff is able to perform any of her
past relevant work.