United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE G. MURRAY SNOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is claimant Bridgett Harris's appeal of
the Social Security Administration's (SSA) decision to
deny disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 12). For the
following reasons, the Court affirms the decision.
Harris filed a claim for disability benefits on November 22,
2013. (Tr. 13). She alleged that she suffers from
fibromyalgia and obesity and has been disabled since May 1,
2012. (Tr. 13, 15). The claim was denied, and Ms. Harris
eventually appeared before Administrative Law Judge Earl
Cates on February 1, 2016. (Tr. 13). In evaluating whether
Ms. Harris was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step
sequential evaluation for determining
disability. (Tr. 14-15).
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Harris had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of
May 1, 2012. (Tr. 15). At step two, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Harris suffers from fibromyalgia and obesity. (Tr.
15-17). At step three, the ALJ decided that Ms. Harris's
impairments did not meet or equal the criteria of a listed
impairment in the regulations. (Tr. 17-18). At step four, the
ALJ determined Ms. Harris's residual functional capacity
and found that she could perform medium work with various
exceptions, such as frequently climbing stairs but never
climbing ladders. (Tr. 18-25). As part of this analysis, the
ALJ considered the opinion testimony of treating physician
Dr. David Schumer and various consultative examining
physicians and reviewing physicians. (Tr. 18-25). The ALJ
then determined that Ms. Harris is capable of either
performing her past relevant work as a child monitor or
working in various other available vocations in the national
economy. (Tr. 25-27). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Harris does not qualify for disability benefits. (Tr.
Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Ms.
Harris's request for review. (Tr. 1). She filed this
complaint on July 24, 2017 to challenge 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).
Family Nurse Practitioner Tamara Rector
practitioners were categorized as “other sources”
under the regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1513(d)(1) (explicitly listing nurse practitioners as an
“other source” under the
regulations). “[O]nly ‘acceptable medical
sources' can be considered treating sources, . . . whose
medical opinions may be entitled to controlling
weight.” Social Security Ruling 06-03P, 2006 WL 2329939
at *2 (citing 20 CFR 404.1527(d) and 416.927(d)). An ALJ
“may use evidence from ‘other sources' . . .
to show the severity of the individual's impairment(s)
and how it affects the individual's ability to
function.” Id. Nurse practitioners are
therefore not entitled to the same deference as acceptable
treating physicians under the regulations. See Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). An ALJ may
discount “other source” opinions by giving
germane reasons for doing so. Id. (internal
quotation and citation omitted).
Rector is a Family Nurse Practitioner at the
Multi-Specialists practice. (Tr. 464). The ALJ considered Ms.
Harris's medical record from the Multi-Specialists
practice in his decision, which included treatment notes from
Ms. Rector. (Tr. 22-23). Ms. Rector completed a form opinion
concerning Ms. Harris's fibromyalgia at the request of
Ms. Harris's disability attorney. (Tr. 464-468). Ms.
Rector opined that Ms. Harris's condition allowed her to
sit for eight hours, stand for two hours, and walk for one
hour in a typical work day. (Tr. 468). Ms. Rector also opined
that Ms. Harris would miss one day of work per month,
“[d]epending on type of job[, ]” and that she
could only occasionally lift or carry five pounds and perform
other physical acts. (Tr. 467-68).
Harris argued that the ALJ failed to properly dismiss the
opinion testimony of Ms. Rector. (Doc. 12). The ALJ
summarized Ms. Rector's opinion, but dismissed it because
nurse practitioners are not acceptable medical sources. The
ALJ did not otherwise analyze Ms. Rector's “other
source” opinion or give any germane reasons to
discredit it. In its response brief, the Government agreed