United States District Court, D. Arizona
before the Court is Plaintiff Naomi Irene Freeman's
appeal of 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
December 16, 2013, Ms. Freeman filed an application for
disability benefits as well as an application for
supplemental security income. (Tr. 19). Both applications
alleged a disability onset date of June 25, 2013.
Id. Both claims were initially denied on March 6,
2014, and they were denied again upon reconsideration on July
9, 2014. Id. Ms. Freeman then filed a written
request for a hearing, and she testified before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Thomas Cheffins
through a video hearing on August 12, 2014. Id. On
July 14, 2015 the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Ms.
Freeman was not disabled. (Tr. 30).
evaluating whether Ms. Freeman was disabled, the ALJ
undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining
disability. (Tr. 20-21). At step one, the ALJ found
that Ms. Freeman had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 25, 2013, the alleged onset
date. (Tr. 21-22). At step two, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Freeman suffered from the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine with back pain, mild bilateral hip chondrosis, and
obesity. (Tr. 22). 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. Id.
point, the ALJ reached step four and made a determination of
Ms. Freeman's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”),  concluding that Ms. Freeman could
“perform light work” as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b), with the exception that “she can
occasionally climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and
crawl.” (Tr. 23). He also found that Ms. Freeman's
RFC did not prohibit her from performing her past relevant
work as a medical assistant, bank teller, and Certified
Nursing Assistant so long as she was limited to light work as
a CNA. (Tr. 29). In making these findings, the ALJ discounted
the opinion of Ms. Freeman's treating physician, Dr.
Bagley, and relied heavily upon the opinion of an examining
physician, Dr. Maric. (Tr. 26, 27). The ALJ also declined to
accept the totality of Ms. Freeman's subjective symptom
testimony. (Tr. 24).
Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-4).
Ms. Freeman filed the complaint underlying this action on
October 31, 2016, seeking this Court's review of the
ALJ's denial of benefits. (Doc. 1).
I. 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
argues the ALJ (a) erroneously rejected Dr. Bagley's
medical opinion, (b) wrongfully assigned significant weight
to Dr. Maric's opinion, and (c) did not discredit Ms.
Freeman's testimony with clear and convincing evidence.
The ALJ Justifiably Rejected Dr. Bagley's
treating physician's medical opinion as to the nature and
severity of an individual's impairment must be given
controlling weight if that opinion is well-supported and not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case
record.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152,
1157 (9th Cir. 2001), as amended on reh'g (Aug.
9, 2001); see Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1995), as amended (Apr. 9, 1996)
(“As a general rule, more weight should be given to the
opinion of a treating source than to the opinion of doctors
who do not treat the claimant.”). However, an
“ALJ need not accept a treating physician's opinion
which is ‘brief and conclusionary in form with little
in the way of clinical findings to support [its]
conclusion.'” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 747, 751 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Young v.
Heckler, 803 F.2d 963, 968 (9th Cir.1986)).
treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another
doctor, the ALJ still cannot reject the treating
physician's opinion unless she provides “specific
and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in
the record.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 831 (internal
quotations omitted). “Sheer disbelief is no substitute
for substantial evidence, ” and thus the ALJ must
specify what evidence she is relying on to reject the
treating physician's opinion. Benecke v.
Barnhart, 379 F.3d 587, 594 (9th Cir. 2004). “The
opinion of a nonexamining physician cannot by itself
constitute substantial evidence that justifies the rejection
of the opinion of either an examining physician or a
treating physician.” Lester, 81 F.3d at 831.
Also, the ALJ may reject a treating physician's opinion
if it is primarily based on a claimant's properly
discounted self-reports. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533
F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008). The ALJ may cite to
diagnostic test results, contrary reports from examining
physicians, and “testimony from the claimant that
conflicted with her treating physician's opinion”
to provide specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting the
opinion of a treating physician. Benecke, 379 F.3d
rejected the medical opinion of Dr. Bagley, Ms. Freeman's
treating physician, because it was conclusory, internally
inconsistent, inconsistent with the objective medical
evidence of the record at large, and contradicted by both an
examining physician and the reviewing physician for the state
agency. (Tr. 27). The ALJ also asserted that Dr. Bagley's