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Clark v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 17, 2018

Leslie Robin Clark, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          G. Murray Snow Chief United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff Leslie Robin Clark, which challenges the Social Security Administration's decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 14). For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the decision of the ALJ.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 2, 2014, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of July 12, 2013. (Tr. at 158). Plaintiff's claim was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. at 78; Tr. at 95). Plaintiff then appealed to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. at 106). The ALJ conducted a hearing on the matter on May 4, 2016 and subsequently issued a decision denying benefits. (Tr. at 148, 38). Plaintiff then appealed her decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review. (Tr. at 1).

         In evaluating whether Plaintiff was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] (Tr. at 31-38). At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 32). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of status-post resection hemangioma, including right sided hemiplegia in January 2014, and migraine headaches. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration's listed impairments. (Id.).

         At that point, the ALJ made a determination of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), [2] concluding that Plaintiff could perform sedentary work. (Tr. at 32.) The ALJ thus determined at step four that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform her past relevant work as a customer service clerk. (Tr. at 37). The ALJ did not reach step five. (Tr. at 38).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         A 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). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         However, 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 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).

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (A) rejecting Dr. Gordon's assessment of Plaintiff's fingering and feeling limitations, (B) improperly evaluating Plaintiff's testimony as to her symptoms, and by (C) failing to address Ms. Clark's alleged cognitive impairments and additional evidence submitted post-hearing. (Doc. 13 at 1).

         A. Dr. Gordon's Assessment of Fingering Limitation

         Ms. Clark does not challenge the ALJ's determination as to her other physical limitations (gait and ambulation), but only asserts that the ALJ wrongfully discounted Dr. Gordon's assessment of her fingerling and feeling limitation. Specifically, Ms. Clark alleges that she cannot perform her past work as a customer service clerk because she cannot type with her right hand. Because Dr. Gordon's assessment is contradicted by Dr. Griffith's assessment (Tr. at 36, 89), the ALJ only needed to point to ...


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