United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable Deborah M Fine United States Magistrate Judge.
Nicole Vance appeals from the denial of her application for
benefits from the Social Security Administration. This Court
has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and,
with the parties' consent to Magistrate Judge
jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). As
detailed below, the Court concludes that further
administrative proceedings would be useful and therefore
remands this matter.
court must affirm the ALJ's findings if they are
supported by substantial evidence and are free from
reversible error. Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172,
174 (9thCir. 1990). Substantial evidence is more
than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). In
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the court considers the record as a
whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that
which detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).
The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts, ambiguity,
and determining credibility. Andrews v. Shalala, 53
F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989).
Thus, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision where the
evidence considered in its entirety substantially supports it
and the decision is free from reversible error. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989).
was 34 years old on her alleged amended onset date. (Tr. 47,
50) She has two associate degrees and her last job as an
office manager ended when the company shut down. (Tr. 50-53)
In his opinion, the ALJ found that Vance had the following
medically determinable impairments: 2 mm aneurysm located in
the brain, migraine headaches, bipolar disorder,
fibromyalgia, asthma, GERD, anemia, and generalized anxiety
disorder. (Tr. 15) However, the ALJ found that Vance did not
have any severe impairments or combination of impairments. As
relevant here, the ALJ assigned no weight to three opinions
from two of Vance's treating sources, no weight to the
State agency's medical consultants' opinions, and
great weight to the opinion from the physical consultative
exam. (Tr. 19-20) As a result, the opinion's analysis
concluded at step two of the usual five step process. (Tr.
15-25) As a result, the ALJ concluded that Vance was not
disabled. (Tr. 15-26)
appeal, Vance argues that the ALJ's conclusion that she
did not have any severe impairments was incorrect as a matter
of law and that the ALJ should have found that her migraines
were disabling and should not have rejected her symptom
testimony and the medical source opinions. (Doc. 20 at 11-25)
The Court agrees.
first argues that the ALJ should have found her medically
determinable impairments to be severe and proceeded to
complete the rest of the five step process. (Doc. 20 at
[T]he step-two inquiry is a de minimis screening device to
dispose of groundless claims. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. [137, ], 153-54. An impairment or combination of
impairments can be found ‘not severe' only if the
evidence establishes a slight abnormality that has ‘no
more than a minimal effect on an individuals ability to
work.' See SSR 85-28; Yuckert v. Bowen,
841 F.2d 303, 306 (9th Cir. 1988) (adopting SSR
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th
Cir. 1996). Vance, her husband, several of her treating
providers, and the agency's evaluative reviewers all
opined that she had some limitations. In other words, on this
record, the Court cannot agree that her claims were
“groundless.” The ALJ did not find that she was
malingering and the Court agrees with Vance that her alleged
medically determinable impairments were, collectively, more
than slight and had more than a minimal effect on her ability
to work. Accordingly, the Court concludes that the ALJ should
have continued the analysis past step two.
also argues that the ALJ opinion did not provide sufficient
justification for providing no weight to the majority of the
medical opinions in the record. The Court agrees. When dismissing
these opinions, the ALJ was “require[d to provide]
specific and legitimate reasons based on substantial evidence
in the record.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d
747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opinion
repeatedly cited to the “overall record” without
deigning to provide specific citations for review.
decision to remand a case for additional evidence or for an
award of benefits is within the discretion of this court.
Swenson v. Sullivan, 876 F.2d 683, 689
(9th Cir. 1989). Here, the Court concludes that
remand is appropriate ...