United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. TEILBORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiff Dolores Eileen Elgrably's
(“Plaintiff”) appeal from the Social Security
Commissioner's (the “Commissioner”) denial of
her application for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq.,
1381 et seq. (Doc. 1 at 1-4). The Court now rules on
parties are familiar with the background information in this
case, and it is summarized in the ALJ's decision.
(See Doc. 9-3 at 23-32). Accordingly, the Court will
reference the background only as necessary to the analysis
ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits may be
overturned “only when the ALJ's findings are based
on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in
the record.” Benton ex rel. Benton v.
Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003).
“‘Substantial evidence' means more than a
mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance, i.e., such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Robbins v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing
Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 183 (9th Cir.
inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, yields
such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the
conclusions reached by the ALJ.” Gallant v.
Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation
omitted). “Where evidence is susceptible of more than
one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion
which must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ
is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the
evidence.” Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453
(citations omitted); see Batson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This
is because “[t]he trier of fact 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 v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir.
1992); see Benton, 331 F.3d at 1035 (“If the
evidence can support either outcome, the Commissioner's
decision must be upheld.”).
is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court must
affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
On the other hand, the Court “may not affirm simply by
isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.”
Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007)
the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and
making its own judgment as to whether Plaintiff is or is not
disabled. Rather, it is a “fundamental rule of
administrative law” that a reviewing court, in dealing
with a judgement which an administrative agency alone is
authorized to make, may only make its decision based upon
evidence discussed by the ALJ. Sec. & Exch.
Comm'n v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 (1947).
Thus, the Court's inquiry is constrained to the reasons
asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied upon in support
of those reasons. See Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d
871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003); Frank v. Schultz, 808 F.3d
762, 764 (9th Cir. 2015). Similarly, when challenging an
ALJ's decision, “issues which are not specifically
and distinctly argued and raised in a party's opening
brief are waived.” Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley
Trans. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 919 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing
Barnett v. U.S. Air, Inc., 228 F.3d 1105, 1110 n. 1
(9th Cir. 2000) (en banc), vacated and remanded on other
grounds, 535 U.S. 391 (2002)); see also Bray v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1226 n. 7
(9th Cir. 2009) (applying the principle to Social Security
appeals). Accordingly, the Court “will not manufacture
arguments for an appellant.” Arpin, 261 F.3d
at 919 (citation omitted).
Definition of a Disability
claimant can qualify for Social Security disability benefits
only if she can show that, among other things, she is
disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). A disability is
defined as an “inability to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.”
Id. § 423(d)(1)(A).
person is disabled only if her “physical or mental
impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is
not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot,
considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” Id. §
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4); see also Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d
715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998). A finding of “not
disabled” at any step in the sequential process will
end the inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps,
but the burden shifts to the Commissioner at the final step.
Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721. The five steps are as
the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
second step, the ALJ next considers whether the claimant has
a “severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If
the claimant does not have a severe impairment, then the
claimant is not disabled. Id. § 404.1520(c). A
“severe impairment” is one that
“significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.”
Id. Basic work activities are the “abilities
and aptitudes to do most jobs, ” such as lifting,
carrying, reaching, understanding, carrying out and
remembering simple instructions, responding appropriately to
co-workers, and dealing with changes in routine.”
Id. § 404.1521(b). Additionally, unless the
claimant's impairment is expected to result in death,
“it must have lasted or must be expected to last for a
continuous period of at least 12 months” for the
claimant to be found disabled. Id. § 404.1509.
having found a severe impairment, the ALJ then considers the
severity of the claimant's impairment. Id.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). This requires the ALJ to
determine if the claimant's impairment “meets or
equals” one of the impairments listed in the
regulations. Id. If so, then the ALJ will find that
the claimant is disabled. Id. If the claimant's
impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then
the ALJ will assess the claimant's “residual
functional capacity based on all the relevant medical and
other evidence in [the claimant's] case record.”
Id. § 404.1520(e). In assessing the
claimant's “residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), the ALJ will consider the claimant's
“impairment(s), and any related symptoms, such as pain,
[that] may cause physical and mental limitations that affect
what [the claimant] can do in a work setting. A
claimant's RFC is the most the claimant can still do
despite the effects of all the claimant's medically
determinable impairments, including those that are not
severe. Id. § 404.1545(a)(1).
four, the ALJ determines whether, despite her impairments,
the claimant can still perform “past relevant
work.” Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). To do
this, the ALJ compares the claimant's residual function
capacity with the physical and mental demands of the
claimant's past relevant work.” Id. §
404.1520(f). If the claimant can still perform her past
relevant work, the ALJ will find that the claimant is not
disabled. Id. § 1520(a)(iv). Otherwise, the ALJ
proceeds to the final step.
fifth and final step, the ALJ considers whether the claimant
“can make an adjustment to other work” that
exists in the national economy. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the ALJ
considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience. Id. § 404.1520(g)(1). If the ALJ
finds that the claimant can make an adjustment to other work,
then the claimant is not disabled. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). However, if the ALJ finds that the
claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, then the
claimant is disabled. Id.
evaluating the claimant's disability under this five-step
process, the ALJ must consider all evidence in the case
record. Id. § 404.1520(a)(3). This includes
medical opinions, records, self-reported symptoms, and
third-party reporting. See Id. §§
404.1527; 404.1529; SSR 06-3p, 71 Fed. Reg. 45593-03 (S.S.R.
Aug. 9, 2006).
The ALJ's Evaluation under the Five Step Process
one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 1, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Doc. 9-3 at 25).
In step two, the ALJ ascertained that Plaintiff has the
following severe impairments: “degenerative disc
disease and spondylosis of the lumbar spine; fibromyalgia;
brachial neuritis; and obesity, which is severe in
combination with the other impairments.”
(Id.). Under the third step, the ALJ determined that
the severity of Plaintiff's impairments, singly and in
combination, did not meet or medically equal the severity of
the impairments listed in the Social Security Regulations.
(Id. at 27).
moving on to step four, the ALJ conducted an RFC
determination after consideration of the entire record.
(Id.). The ALJ found that Plaintiff “has the
residual functional capacity to perform a range of work at
the light exertional level.” (Id.).
. . . can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently, stand and/or walk about four hours and sit six
hours in an eight-hour workday. She can frequently balance,
crouch, and occasionally stoop, kneel, crawl, and climb ramps
or stairs, but should never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. The [Plaintiff] is capable of frequently handling
and occasionally reaching overhead with the bilateral upper
extremities. She must also avoid vibration and hazards, such
as moving machinery and unprotected heights. In ...