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Warden v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 18, 2018

Katherine Warden, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Katherine Warden 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 Warden's Opening Brief, Defendant's Responsive Brief, and Warden's Reply. (Docs. 14, 16, 17.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 10.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record submitted to the Court, the Court remands this matter for further proceedings.


         Warden filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) in September 2013. (Administrative Record (AR) 164.) She alleged disability from April 26, 2012. (Id.) Her last insured date was December 31, 2015. (AR 17.) Warden's application was denied upon initial review (AR 63-75) and on reconsideration (AR 76-91). A hearing was held on July 13, 2016. (AR 32-62.) Subsequently, the ALJ found that Warden was not disabled. (AR 15-25). The Appeals Council denied Warden's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


         Warden was born on April 23, 1956, making her 56 years of age at the onset date of her alleged disability. (AR 164.) Warden did administrative office work from 2000 to 2003, and then worked as a realtor until 2012. (AR 38.) She last worked in April 2012, when she was in a car accident. (AR 37.)

         The ALJ found that Warden had the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, Sjogren's syndrome, sleep apnea, and obesity. (AR 17.) The ALJ determined Warden had the RFC to perform light work but could only occasionally climb ladders and reach overhead, and could climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl no more than frequently. (AR 18.) The ALJ concluded at Step Four, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, that Warden could perform her past relevant work as a realtor and office worker. (AR 25.)


         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate DIB claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-462 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing she (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 her from performing his past work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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. § 404.1520(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).


         Warden argues the ALJ committed two errors: (1) she failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Warden's credibility; and (2) she erred in giving the treating physicians' opinions reduced weight. Warden requests a remand for the award of benefits.


         Warden argues the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject her testimony. In general, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely” for the ALJ. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 750 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982)). However, “[w]hile an ALJ may certainly find testimony not credible and disregard it . . . [the court] cannot affirm such a determination unless it is supported by specific findings and reasoning.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 884-85 (9th Cir. 2006); Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 345-346 (9th Cir. 1995) (requiring specificity to ensure a reviewing court the ALJ did not arbitrarily reject a claimant's subjective testimony); SSR 96-7p. ...

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