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Arriaga v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 26, 2018

John Arriaga, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.


          Honorable Lynette C. Kimmins United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff John Arriaga filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). (Doc. 1.) Before the Court are Arriaga's Opening Brief, Defendant's Responsive Brief, and Arriaga's Reply. (Docs. 19, 28, 31.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 21.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record submitted to the Court, the Court remands this matter for further proceedings.


         Arriaga received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as a child for ADHD, beginning in 2002. (Administrative Record (AR) 88.) When SSA reviewed his case as an adult, it determined he was not disabled as of January 13, 2014. (AR 86, 101.) Arriaga then filed an application for SSI on February 12, 2014. (AR 189.) He alleged disability from January 1, 1999. (Id.) On June 13, 2014, a disability hearing officer, without holding a hearing, determined that Arriaga was not disabled. (AR 87, 118-26.) Arriaga's application was denied upon initial review (AR 86-104) and on reconsideration (AR 105- 50). A hearing was held on January 8, 2015 (AR 47-85), after which an ALJ found that Arriaga was not disabled because he could perform work available in the national economy (AR 28-39). The Appeals Council denied Arriaga's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 5.)


         Arriaga was born on July 20, 1994, making him 5 years of age at the onset date of his alleged disability and 19 at the date of SSA's non-disability finding. (AR 58.) Arriaga never has been employed.

         The ALJ found, as of January 13, 2014, Arriaga had three severe impairments, borderline intellectual functioning, mood disorder, and attention deficit disorder (ADD)/ attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (AR 30.) The ALJ determined Arriaga had the RFC to perform light work but should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and should avoid hazards. (AR 33.) He limited Arriaga to short and simple instructions and simple work-related decisions, and only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers. (Id.) The ALJ concluded at Step Five, based on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, that Arriaga could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 38.)


         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate SSI claims. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-462 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing he (1) is not working; (2) has a severe physical or mental impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; and (4) claimant's RFC precludes him from performing his past work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). If the Commissioner conclusively finds the claimant “disabled” or “not disabled” at any point in the five-step process, she does not proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

         “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989)). The findings of the Commissioner are meant to be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992)). The court may overturn the decision to deny benefits only “when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001). This is so because the ALJ “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, 981 F.2d at 1019 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 400 (1971)); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner's decision, however, “cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Reviewing courts must consider the evidence that supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir. 1975).


         Arriaga argues the ALJ committed five errors: (1) he failed to consider the combined impact of all impairments; (2) he failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Arriaga's credibility; (3) he improperly weighed the medical opinion evidence; (4) he failed to develop the record and call a vocational expert; and (5) he cherry-picked and failed to consider properly all evidence. The allegations of Claim 5 will be discussed within Claims 1, 2, and 3.

         Combined Impairments

         Arriaga argues the ALJ failed to consider the impact of all his combined impairments, severe and non-severe, at ...

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