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Sesco v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 14, 2018

Rhonda Sesco, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Michelle H. Bums United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Rhonda Sesco seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied her application for period of disability and disability insurance benefits under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 12, 2012, Plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning May 1, 2004. (Transcript of Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 22.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on June 26, 2013, and upon reconsideration it was denied again on November 19, 2013. (Tr. at 22.) Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. (Tr. at 22, 85.) On March 26, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. at 37.) An impartial vocational expert also testified. (Tr. at 46.) At the hearing, Plaintiff amended the alleged disability onset date to March 18, 2011. (Tr. at 40.) On May 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from March 18, 2011, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 30.) On August 2, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. at 1-6.)


         The 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 means more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. 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 omitted).

         The 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). If the “evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the [Commissioner's] conclusion, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).


         The Social Security Administration has a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The steps are sequentially followed by the ALJ. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If it cannot be determined that the claimant is or is not disabled at a step in evaluation process, then the evaluation will go on to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The ALJ considers whether a claimant is disabled by determining: (1) whether the claimant is “doing substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a “severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment” or combination of impairments that has lasted for more than 12 months; (3) whether the impairment “meets or equals” one of the listings in the regulations; (4) whether, given the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (“RFC”), the claimant can still do his or her “past relevant work”; and (5) whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. 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).

         At step one, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 18, 2011, which is the amended alleged disability onset date. (Tr. at 24.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: status post right shoulder surgery, inflammatory arthritis, degenerative disc disease, status post right knee surgery, and obesity. (Tr. at 24.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. (Tr. at 25.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform:

medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except that she while she can lift or carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently from floor to chest, she can only occasionally lift or carry fifteen pounds overhead. The claimant can stand, walk, or sit for six hours each, with regular breaks, in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can only occasionally kneel or crawl, but can frequently stoop or crouch. Lastly, the claimant can only occasionally reach overhead with her bilateral upper extremities.

(Tr. at 26.) At step five, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a home attendant. (Tr. at 29.) Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from March 19, 2011, through the date of her decision. (Tr. at 30.)


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinions of Plaintiff's consultative examiner Quirino Valeros, M.D. (“Dr. Valeros”) and treating Physician's Assistant Alaina Bates, P.A. (“P.A. Bates”). The Court ...

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