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Hunsaker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 22, 2018

Harold Randall Hunsaker, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. G. Murray Snow, United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Claimant Harold Randall Hunsaker Jr.'s appeal of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) decision to deny disability benefits and supplemental security income. (Doc. 19). For the following reasons, the Court affirms the ALJ's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 20, 2013, Mr. Hunsaker filed a claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, and on February 22, 2013 Mr. Hunsaker filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Mr. Hunsaker alleged that the disability began on October 2, 2012 after he suffered an aneurysm. (Tr. 40). His applications to the SSA alleged disability on the basis of aortic dissection, congestive heart failure, acute kidney injury, hemodialysis, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 126, 258). Mr. Hunsaker also alleges depression and anxiety disorders. His claims were denied on July 11, 2013; reconsideration was denied on December 30, 2013.

         Mr. Hunsaker requested and received a hearing which was held on March 20, 2015. The ALJ found that Mr. Hunsaker was not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied the request to review, making the Commissioner's decision final. Mr. Hunsaker now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         A reviewing federal court will address only 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 when 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). It is “relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         The ALJ 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 evidence is “subject to more than one rational interpretation, [courts] 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 omitted).

         II. Analysis

         Claimant alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to properly assess Claimant's mental residual functional capacity (RFC); (2) failing to fully develop the record; and (3) improperly rejecting Claimant's credibility.

         A. Residual Functional Capacity

         The ALJ determined that Mr. Hunsaker had severe impairments, but that they did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (Tr. 21). When an impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must make a finding about the claimant's residual functional capacity. The RFC is then used at steps four and five of the sequential process to determine whether the claimant can return to past relevant work or adjust to other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). A claimant's RFC “is the most [the claimant] can still do despite [the claimant's] limitations.” Id. at § 404.1545(a)(1). In assessing an RFC, ALJs must consider “all of [the claimant's] medically determinable impairments.” Id. at § 404.1545(a)(2).

         Mr. Hunsaker argues that the ALJ erred by failing to properly account for Mr. Hunsaker's mental limitations in the RFC. The ALJ determined that Mr. Hunsaker had two severe mental impairments: anxiety disorder and depressive disorder. (Tr. 19). The ALJ further determined that Mr. Hunsaker's mental limitations did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (Tr. 21-22). To meet the “paragraph B” criteria, a claimant must show that their mental impairment or impairments result in two of the following: “marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation.” (Tr. 21). The ALJ found that Mr. Hunsaker had only mild restrictions of daily living and social functioning; in addition, Mr. Hunsaker has no episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 21-22). However, the ALJ did find that Mr. Hunsaker had moderate restrictions of concentration, persistence, and pace. (Tr. 22). The ALJ ...


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