United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE G. MURRAY SNOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is claimant Arlene Chute Guina's appeal
of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) decision to
deny disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 15). For the
following reasons, the Court vacates the decision and remands
for additional proceedings.
Guina filed a claim for disability benefits on June 19, 2013.
(Tr. 19). She alleged that she suffered from various
impairments and has been disabled since September 1, 2008.
(Tr. 19, 21). The claim was denied, and Ms. Guina then
appeared before Administrative Law Judge Kelly Walls on
September 15, 2014. (Tr. 19). In evaluating whether Ms. Guina
was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential
evaluation for determining disability. (Tr. 23-24).
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Guina had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of
September 1, 2008. (Tr. 21). At step two, the ALJ determined
that Ms. Guina suffered from the following severe
impairments: hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism, moderate
obstructive sleep apnea, mononucleosis, and cervical spine
degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 21). Also at step two, the
ALJ determined that the medical record did not support Ms.
Guina's claim that she suffered from fibromyalgia and
chronic fatigue syndrome (“CFS”). (Tr. 21-23). At
step three, the ALJ determined that none of these
impairments, either alone or in combination, significantly
limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities
for twelve consecutive months, and Ms. Guina did not qualify
for disability benefits. (Tr. 24-28). Ms. Guina filed a
complaint in Federal Court on June 19, 2017 to appeal the
denial of benefits. (Doc. 1).
Standard of Review
reviewing federal court will only address the issues raised
by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision.
See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir.
2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability
benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by
substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). The ALJ is
responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony, determining
credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). “When
the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one
rational interpretation, we must defer to the ALJ's
conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so
because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must
resolve conflicts in 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) (citations
omitted). A reviewing court may draw specific and legitimate
inferences from an ALJ's decision, but it cannot
speculate on the ALJ's reasoning or make “post hoc
rationalizations that attempt to intuit what the adjudicator
may have been thinking.” Bray v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 554 F.3d 1219, 1225 (9th Cir. 2009).
Dr. Scott Rigden
Guina argued that the ALJ failed to properly consider
treating physician Scott Rigden's opinion that Ms. Guina
suffers from CFS. (Doc. 15). The Government agreed that the
ALJ erred in reviewing Dr. Rigden's opinion and in
concluding that CFS was not a medically determinable
impairment. (Doc. 16 at 4).
short, the ALJ determined that Ms. Guina did not suffer from
CFS because the “objective medical signs and findings,
as well as the diagnoses, of chronic fatigue syndrome . . .
were not made by an acceptable medical source” but were
made by naturopathic medical doctors. (Tr. 22). The ALJ noted
that Dr. Scott Rigden, an acceptable medical source, cosigned
the diagnosis with the naturopathic doctors, but the ALJ
assigned no weight to Dr. Rigden's opinion. (Tr. 22). She
based this decision on the fact that “there is no
indication in the record that Dr. Rigden ever treated the
claimant for chronic fatigue.” (Tr. 22). The ALJ noted
that “[o]n this record, it appears that Dr. Rigden only
participated in the claimant's treatment for sleep
apnea.” (Tr. 22). However, as the government concedes,
the ALJ erred in this conclusion. Dr. Rigden treated Ms.
Guina as early as June 2009 for various conditions, including
fatigue. (Tr. 418-20). In March 2010, he noted that Ms. Guina
was lethargic and had limited energy. (Tr. 636). In February
2011, he had a follow up visit for CFS. (Tr. 843). In October
2011, he had a follow up visit for CFS. (Tr. 843). In January
2013, he had a follow up visit for CFS and again noted CFS in
his diagnosis. (Tr. 840). In August 2013, he noted that Ms.
Guina was “extreme[ly] lethargic” and was
“in bed most of the time.” (Tr. 629). In October
2014, he had a follow up visit for fatigue. (Tr. 836).
erred in its review of Dr. Rigden's opinion.