United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell United States District Judge
Adelita G. Murray seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security,
which denied her disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under §§ 216(i),
223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Because
Plaintiff has not shown that the administrative law
judge's (“ALJ”) decision is unsupported by
substantial evidence or based on reversible legal error, the
Court will affirm.
is a 59 year old female who previously worked as a cashier,
store laborer, and kitchen helper. A.R. 19, 58-59, 70.
Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income in June 2012, alleging
disability beginning on August 1, 2011. A.R. 10. On July 27,
2015, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A.R.
27-69. A vocational expert also testified. Id. On
September 21, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. A.R. 10-21. This became the Commissioner's final
decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. A.R. 1-3.
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 determination only if it 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.
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. (citation omitted). 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). Harmless error principles apply in the Social Security
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 burden is on the party claiming error
to demonstrate not only the error, but also that it affected
[her] substantial rights.” Ludwig v. Astrue,
681 F.3d 1047, 1054 (9th Cir. 2012).
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, and the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). To establish disability, the
claimant must show that (1) she is not currently working, (2)
she has a severe impairment, and (3) this impairment meets or
equals a listed impairment or (4) her residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) prevents her performance of any
past relevant work.
claimant meets her burden through step three, the
Commissioner must find her disabled. If the inquiry proceeds
to step four and the claimant shows that she is incapable of
performing past relevant work, the Commissioner must show in
the fifth step that the claimant is capable of other work
suitable for her RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31,
2014, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 1, 2011. A.R. 12. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: history
of prolapsed bladder with mixed urinary incontinence; history
of breast cancer, treated without recurrence; and
degenerative dis[c] disease of the lumbar spine. A.R. 13. The
ALJ acknowledged that the record contained evidence of mood
disorder and anxiety, but found that these are not severe
impairments. A.R. 13-15. At step three, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals a listed
impairment. A.R. 15. At step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work with some
additional limitations, but that Plaintiff is unable to
perform her past relevant work as a kitchen helper or as a
cashier and laborer at a thrift store. A.R. 15-19. At step
five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, RFC, and transferrable
skills, she is able to perform the requirements of
occupations like cashier/checker. A.R. 19-20.
alleges that a single error at step four caused harm at step
five. Doc. 18 at 5-7.
No Error at Step Four.
classified Plaintiff's past relevant work at a thrift
store as both cashier/checker (light exertion, semiskilled)
and store laborer (medium exertion, skilled). A.R. 19;
see also A.R. 58. Plaintiff contends that Ninth
Circuit precedent prohibits the classification of composite
jobs according to the least demanding function. Doc. 18 at 6
(citing Valencia v. Heckler, 751 F.2d 1082 (9th Cir.
1985)). Because cashier/checker is less ...