United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable John Z. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge.
Lynda Langfield seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”), which denied her disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income under
sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social
Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) is not supported by substantial
evidence and is based on legal error, the Commissioner's
decision will be vacated and the matter remanded for further
April 24, 2013, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income, alleging
disability beginning September 9, 2010. On April 10, 2015,
she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing
before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On May
21, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of
the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision.
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 is
more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and
relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a
whole. 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
error principles apply in the Social Security Act context.
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir.
2012). An error is harmless if there remains substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ's decision and the error does
not affect the ultimate nondisability determination.
Id. The claimant usually bears the burden of showing
that an error is harmful. Id. at 1111.
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.
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation Process.
determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the
Social Security Act, the ALJ follows a five-step process. 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).
first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. At step two, the ALJ
determines whether the claimant has a “severe”
medically determinable physical or mental impairment. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If not, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. At step three, the ALJ
considers whether the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals an
impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is
automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the
ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determines whether the claimant is
still capable of performing past relevant work. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to
the fifth and final step, where he determines whether the
claimant can perform any other work based on the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not
disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled.
one, the ALJ found that 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 September 9, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
“degenerative disc disease with stenosis.” (AR
21.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1
to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. At step four, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(h), except that the
claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, but can
frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch,
kneel, and crawl. She can occasionally reach overhead
bilaterally and frequently operate foot controls with her
right lower extremity.
further found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his
past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that,
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
argues the ALJ's decision is defective for two reasons:
(1) the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical opinion of Dr.
Peachey, and (2) the ALJ erred in weighing Plaintiff's
symptom testimony. (Doc. 15.) The Court will address each
Weighing of Medical Source Evidence.
argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinion