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Bradley v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 26, 2018

Barbara Bradley, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Michelle H. Bums United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Barbara Bradley's appeal from the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits. After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 13, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. She alleged disability beginning July 1, 2011. The application was initially denied on June 6, 2013. It was again denied upon reconsideration on September 26, 2013. Plaintiff requested a hearing, and on February 3, 2015, she appeared and testified before the ALJ. On March 20, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Thereafter, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The ALJ's decision to deny benefits will be overturned “only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation marks omitted). “Substantial evidence” means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).

         “The inquiry here is whether the record ... yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached by the ALJ.” Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support a decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. See Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. “Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence.” Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453 (citations omitted); see Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This is because “[t]he trier of fact and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in the 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); see Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). On the other hand, the Court “may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted).

         Notably, the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and making its own judgment as to whether a plaintiff is or is not disabled. Rather, the Court's inquiry is constrained to the reasons asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied upon in support of those reasons. See Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).

         III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         In order to be eligible for disability or social security benefits, a claimant must demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An ALJ determines a claimant's eligibility for benefits by following a five-step sequential evaluation:

(1) determine whether the applicant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity”;
(2) determine whether the applicant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments;
(3) determine whether the applicant's impairment equals one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges as so severe as to preclude the applicant from engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(4) if the applicant's impairment does not equal one of the listed impairments, determine whether the applicant is capable of performing his or her past relevant work;
(5) if the applicant is not capable of performing his or her past relevant work, determine whether the applicant is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience.

See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920). At the fifth stage, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful work. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993).

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2011 - the alleged onset date. (Transcript of Administrative Record (“Tr.”) at 15.) At step two, she found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: essential hypertension, hyperlipidemia, lumbar degenerative disc disease, and dysfunction of her left knee. (Tr. at 15-18.) At step three, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. at 18.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained “the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can frequently balance. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can have frequent contact with fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation[1].” (Tr. at 18-23.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform “past relevant work as a case manager, DOT 195, 107-030, sedentary, skilled, SVP 7, and a front desk clerk, DOT 237.367-010, sedentary, semi-skilled, SVP 3. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).” (Tr. at 23-24.) Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from June 1, 2011, through the date of her decision. (Tr. at 24.)

         IV. DISCUSSION

         In her brief, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly consider her subjective complaints; and (2) failing to properly weigh medical source opinion evidence. Plaintiff requests that the Court remand for determination of benefits.

         A. Plaintiff's Subjective Complaints

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting her subjective complaints in the absence of clear and convincing reasons for doing so. Plaintiff specifically refutes the ALJ's analysis and conclusions drawn from the objective medical evidence, Plaintiff's medical treatment and ...


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