United States District Court, D. Arizona
S. Willett United States Magistrate Judge.
before the Court is Diane Carol Roberts'
(“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Social Security
Administration's (“Social Security”) denial
of her application for supplemental security income. The
Court has jurisdiction to decide Plaintiff's appeal
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court has the power to enter, based
upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment
affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding
the case for a rehearing. Both parties have consented to the
exercise of U.S. Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 11).
reviewing the Administrative Record (“A.R.”) and
the parties' briefing (Docs. 18, 19, 21), the Court finds
that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
decision contains harmful legal error. For the reasons
explained in Section II, the decision is reversed and the
case is remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for
an immediate award of benefits.
Disability Analysis: Five-Step Evaluation
Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides for
Supplemental Security Income to certain individuals who are
aged 65 or older, blind, or disabled and have limited income.
42 U.S.C. § 1382. To be eligible for benefits based on
an alleged disability, the claimant must show that he or she
suffers from a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment that prohibits him or her from engaging in any
substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(A)(3)(A). The claimant must also show that the
impairment is expected to cause death or last for a
continuous period of at least 12 months. Id.
decide if a claimant is entitled to Social Security benefits,
an ALJ conducts an analysis consisting of five questions,
which are considered in sequential steps. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a). The claimant has the burden of proof regarding
the first four steps:Step One: Is the
claimant engaged in “substantial gainful
activity”? If so, the analysis ends and disability
benefits are denied. Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to step two.
Step Two: Does the claimant have a
medically severe impairment or combination of impairments? A
severe impairment is one which significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). If the claimant does
not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments,
disability benefits are denied at this step. Otherwise, the
ALJ proceeds to step three.
Step Three: Is the impairment
equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the
Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the
impairment is not one that is presumed to be disabling, the
ALJ proceeds to the fourth step of the analysis.
Step Four: Does the impairment
prevent the claimant from performing work which the claimant
performed in the past? If not, the claimant is “not
disabled” and disability benefits are denied without
continuing the analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f).
Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to the last step.
analysis proceeds to the final question, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner:
Step Five: Can the claimant perform
other work in the national economy in light of his or her
age, education, and work experience? The claimant is entitled
to disability benefits only if he or she is unable to perform
other work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g). Social Security is
responsible for providing evidence that demonstrates that
other work exists in significant numbers in the national
economy that the claimant can do, given the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
Standard of Review Applicable to ALJ's
Court must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence and is based on correct legal standards.
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir.
2012); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th
Cir. 1990). “Substantial evidence” is less than a
preponderance, but more than a “mere scintilla.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(quoting Consolidated Edison v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197,
229 (1938)). It is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the Court considers the record as a
whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts
from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick v. Chater,
157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Tylitzki v.
Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993). If there
is sufficient evidence to support the ALJ's
determination, the Court cannot substitute its own
determination. See Morgan v. Comm'r of the Social
Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999)
(“Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that
must be upheld.”); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ, not the Court, is
responsible for resolving conflicts and ambiguities in the
evidence and determining credibility. Magallanes,
881 F.2d at 750; see also Andrews v. Shalala, 53
F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
the Court considers the harmless error doctrine when
reviewing an ALJ's decision. An ALJ's decision need
not be remanded or reversed if it is clear from the record
that the error is “inconsequential to the ultimate
nondisability determination.” Tommasetti v.
Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citations
omitted); Molina, 674 F.3d at 1115 (an error is
harmless so long as there remains substantial evidence
supporting the ALJ's decision and the error “does
not negate the validity of the ALJ's ultimate
conclusion”) (citations omitted).