United States District Court, D. Arizona
K. Duncan United States Magistrate Judge.
Margarita Leon De Nunez appeals from the denial of her
application for benefits. (Doc. 1) This Court has
jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and, with
the parties' consent to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 14) As detailed
below, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision
contains harmful errors and the Court will remand for further
court must affirm the ALJ's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and are free from
reversible error. Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172,
174 (9thCir. 1990). Substantial evidence is more
than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). In
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the court considers the record as a
whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that
which detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1988).
The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts, ambiguity,
and determining credibility. Andrews v. Shalala, 53
F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If
there is sufficient evidence to support the ALJ's
determination, the Court cannot substitute its own
determination. See Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180,
184 (9th Cir. 1990).
the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision where the
evidence considered in its entirety substantially supports it
and the decision is free from reversible error. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989). The Court must do more than
merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision. Winans v.
Bowen, 853 F.2d 643, 645 (9th Cir. 1988).
However, where the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be
upheld. Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 750.
Leon was 40 years old on her
alleged disability onset date. She has an 11th
grade education and past relevant work as a packager and
machine operator. (Tr. 32)
hearing where Leon and a vocational expert testified, the ALJ
issued an opinion that followed the requisite five step
process. The ALJ found that her severe impairment was
degenerative disc disease, status post spinal fusion but that
its severity did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr.
25-27) The ALJ further found that Leon had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
subject to some additional functional limitations. (Tr.
27-32) Based on Leon's past work, RFC, and testimony from
the vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Leon could
perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy and, thus, was not disabled. (Tr. 33-34)
primary care provider, Jason Cheng, M.D., completed a
check-box form and the ALJ discounted the form's
conclusions because there was “little to no explanation
for such limitations.” (Tr. 30) Specifically, the ALJ
noted that Dr. Cheng described Leon with bilateral
limitations even though she had “only alleged
limitations in the use of the left arm and hand.”
(Id.) The ALJ also noted that, on the one hand, Dr.
Cheng had limited Leon to sitting 10-15 minutes at a time and
would need a 15 minute break every 15 minutes but, on the
other hand, Leon's medical records had noted “no
acute distress” and that she had been able to travel 53
minutes to the hearing and participate in the 45 minute
hearing. (Id.) The ALJ did not provide any
additional details before concluding that, because Dr.
Cheng's opinion was “unsupported by the medical
record and [Leon's] demonstrated abilities, ” his
assessments were entitled to only “little
weight.” (Tr. 30)
Ninth Circuit recently articulated,
The medical opinion of a claimant's treating physician is
given “controlling weight” so long as it
“is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence in [the claimant's] case
record.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). When a
treating physician's opinion is not controlling, it is
weighted according to factors such as the length of the
treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the
nature and extent of the ...