Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Kollmeyer v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 28, 2019

Dianna Rae Kollmeyer, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Bridget S. Bade United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Dianna Rae Kollmeyer, proceeding pro se, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and have filed briefs in accordance with Rule 16.1 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure. As discussed below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Procedural Background

         On March 11, 2014, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income (“SSI”) alleging a disability onset date of October 20, 2012. (Tr. 14.)[1] After Plaintiff's application was denied on initial review, and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id.) In February 2016, an ALJ conducted a video hearing at which Plaintiff appeared and testified with a representative, paralegal Jennifer Hornback.[2] (Id.) At the hearing, Plaintiff, through her representative, amended the onset date to March 11, 2014. (Tr. 14, 85-86.) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 14-29.) The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had a previous application for SSI but did not request to reopen any prior application. (Tr. 14.) The ALJ also noted that although SSI is not payable until the month after the application was filed, she considered the complete medical history consistent with 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(d). (Id.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-6.) The Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Administrative Record

         The administrative record includes medical records pertaining to the history of diagnoses and treatment of Plaintiff's alleged impairments. The record also includes several medical opinions. The Court discusses the relevant records and opinions below.

         A. Treatment Records related to Mental Impairment

         1. Marc Community Resources and SMI Determination

         Plaintiff received treatment for mental health conditions at Marc Community Resources (“MCR”) stating in 2008. (Doc. 25 at 8; Tr. 944.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with depressive disorder NOS, dysthymic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), borderline personality disorder, and obesity. (Tr. 921, 927, 944, 962, 963.) Plaintiff reported lifelong depression with increasing anxiety. (Tr. 538.) Plaintiff regularly reported suicidal thoughts and difficulty coping with life's stressors. (Tr. 294, 918, 927, 944.) Plaintiff reported a family history of mental illness and substance abuse and that she had been sexually and verbally abused by her father, brother, and ex-husband. (Tr. 918, 944.)

         In August 2015, Plaintiff reported that she was intermittently living at her ex-husband's home and her parents' home to take care of her children. (Id.) She reported that each place was a source of stress. (Id.) Plaintiff reported “self-injurious behavior-hitting self in head and peeling skin on her feet to the point she cannot walk.” (Tr. 944.) Plaintiff had a history of “numerous failed trials of various psychiatric medications.” (Tr. 918.) Plaintiff reported medication side effects of hypersomnia, daytime drowsiness, and increased appetite. (Tr. 373, 388, 602.)

         On June 23, 2015, nurse practitioner (“NP”) Roderick at MCR conducted a mental status examination and noted that Plaintiff was oriented, alert, had good eye contact, normal speech, an unremarkable thought process, and logical associations. (Tr. 919.) She had a full fund of knowledge, but poor memory, insight, judgment, and concentration. (Id.) During a July 2015 appointment at MCR, Plaintiff reported feeling increasingly suicidal since a change in her medication. (Tr. 927.) NP Roderick restarted Plaintiff on Cymbalta and Valium. (Id.)

         On the suggestion of treatment providers at MCR, Plaintiff was evaluated for a Seriously Mentally Ill. (“SMI”) determination. (Tr. 927, 928-958.) Based on that examination, in August 2015, the Crisis Response Network (“CRN”) approved Plaintiff for SMI eligibility. (Tr. 960.) Accordingly, Plaintiff stopped treatment at MCR and her care was transferred to Partners in Recovery. (Tr. 966, 720-22.) The September 2015 discharge summary from MCR noted that Plaintiff appeared to have “declined in progress” based on her GAF scores. (Tr. 966.)

         2. Partners in Recovery

         In August 2015, Plaintiff began treatment with various providers at Partners in Recovery. (Tr. 720.) On examination, Plaintiff was oriented, alert, had normal speech, a tangential thought process, logical associations, a labile mood, appropriate affect, a fair fund of knowledge, fair memory, and poor judgment, insight, and concentration. (Tr. 722.) Plaintiff had a normal gait. (Id.) Plaintiff reported daily thoughts of death. (Id.) During a September 2, 2015 appointment, Plaintiff reported that she had started taking more Diazepam than ordered and that she had increased her use of medical marijuana. (Tr. 723.) Judith Bischoff, NP, prescribed Latuda 80mg and Diazepam 2mg. (Id.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with mood disorder, bipolar NOS, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Id.) During a September 9, 2015 appointment with NP Bischoff, Plaintiff reported that she thought the Latuda was making her symptoms worse. (Tr. 730.) On examination, Plaintiff was oriented, alert, and had fair eye contact. (Tr. 731.) Plaintiff had logical associations, unremarkable stream of thought, an anxious mood, a labile affect, a fair fund of knowledge, fair memory, fair insight, fair judgment, and poor concentration. (Id.) Plaintiff had a normal gait. (Id.) Plaintiff reported experiencing palpations as a side effect. (Id.) Plaintiff's current medications were identified as Diazepam 2mg and Gabapentin 300 mg. (Id.)

         During a September 24, 2015 appointment, Plaintiff reported that she had stopped Latuda and that she was taking Gabapentin, but it was not helping. (Tr. 733.) Plaintiff also reported that she had stopped taking Valium. (Id.) Plaintiff reported no side effects from her medication. (Tr. 734.) Plaintiff's current medications were identified as Gabapentin 400 mg and Buspirone 30 mg. (Id.) On examination on October 22, 2015 Plaintiff was oriented, alert, had good eye contact and normal speech, her stream of thought was unremarkable. (Tr. 737.) Plaintiff had fair memory and fair fund of knowledge. (Id.) Her insight, judgment, and concentration were poor. (Id.) Plaintiff had a normal gait and normal strength and muscle tone. (Id.) Plaintiff reported medication side effects of dizziness and nausea. (Id.) Plaintiff's current medications were Gabapentin 400mg and Hydroxyline Pamoate 100mg. (Tr. 738.) During an October 21, 2015 appointment, Plaintiff reported “passive” thoughts of not wanting to live. (Tr. 740.) She had a good fund of knowledge, her memory was grossly intact, and her insight, judgment, and concentration were fair. (Id.) Plaintiff had a steady gait. (Id.) Plaintiff's medications were modified to target depression, anxiety, and PTSD. (Id.)

         During November 17, 2015 appointment with Arashdeep Gill, M.D., Plaintiff reported anxiety, depression, and nightmares. (Tr. 743.) Dr. Gill adjusted Plaintiff's medication but denied her request for Benzodiazepine noting that Plaintiff had taken it in the past and it presented short term and long-term risks. (Id.) During the November 17, 2015 appointment, Plaintiff reported being anxious and depressed, having fragmented sleep, passive suicidal thoughts, and reported self-cutting the previous week. (Id.) Plaintiff reported that she was unable to attend planned therapy due to transportation issues. (Tr. 744.) Plaintiff did not report any medication side effects. (Tr. 745.) Plaintiff reported that she had previously used medical cannabis twice a week, but she denied recent use. (Id.) On examination, Plaintiff was oriented, alert, had good eye contact and normal speech, her stream of thought was unremarkable, her affect was congruent, she had a good fund of knowledge, her memory was grossly intact, she had fair judgment, insight, and concentration. (Id.) She had a steady gait. (Id.) She was positive for chronic back pain and anxiety. (Id.)

         During a December 7, 2015 appointment with Dr. Gill, Plaintiff was oriented, alert, had good eye contact, a concrete thought process, and an unremarkable stream of thought. (Tr. 749.) Plaintiff had a good fund of knowledge, her memory was “grossly intact, ” her judgment, insight, and concentration were fair (“more goal directed”). (Id.) Plaintiff had a steady gait. (Id.) During a December 17, 2015 appointment with Dr. Gill, Plaintiff reported anxiety and poor sleep. (Tr. 753, 754.) On examination, Plaintiff was oriented, alert, had an unremarkable stream of thought, a good fund of knowledge, grossly intact memory, and fair insight, judgment, and concentration (“more goal directed than her first few appts”). (Tr. 754.) Plaintiff had a steady gait. (Id.) Plaintiff was positive for chronic back pain and anxiety. (Id.) She was assessed with mood disorder NOS, PTSD, depressive disorder. (Tr. 756.)

         B. Treatment Records Related to Physical Impairments

         Plaintiff was treated by several providers as the McKellips Family Clinic. (Tr. 662-712.) Carl E. Ferguson, D.O., diagnosed bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. (Tr. 670, 671, 683.) Dr. Ferguson also treated Plaintiff for neck and back pain. (Tr. 683-86.) On January 15, 2105, Plaintiff complained of sharp shooting neck pain. (Id.) On examination, Plaintiff's cervical spine had a decreased range of motion. (Tr. 685.) Plaintiff was alert and oriented and had a normal mood and affect. (Id.) Dr. Ferguson diagnosed cervicalgia, lumbago, myalgia, and hearing loss. (Tr. 685.) On January 28, 2015, Dr. Ferguson ordered a lumbar MRI. (Tr. 687-88; see Tr. 620-21.) The MRI revealed mild multilevel spondylitic change in the lumbar spine without evidence of stenosis or root impingement, “probable small Tarlov cyst formation, ” and mild chronic “endplate compression deformities [at] ¶ 12 and L1.” (Tr. 621.) During at February 3, 2015 appointment, Plaintiff reported sharp stabbing low back pain at a level 9/10. (Tr. 689.) On examination, Plaintiff's lumbar spine was tender to palpation “with spasm.” (Tr. 691.) Dr. Ferguson observed tight paravertebral muscles and decreased “DTR.” (Id.) Straight leg raising test was negative. (Id.) Plaintiff was alert and oriented with a normal mood and affect. (Id.)

         During a March 13, 2015 appointment with Physician Assistant (“PA”) Michelle Roy, Plaintiff complained of throbbing, diffuse back pain at a level 6/10. (Tr. 697.) Plaintiff denied any medication side effects. (Id.) On examination, Plaintiff's lumbar spine was tender on palpation. (Tr. 699.) Plaintiff had tight paravertebral muscles and decreased “DTR.” (Id.) Straight leg raising test was negative. (Id.) Plaintiff was alert and oriented with a normal mood and affect. (Id.) During a May 2015 appointment with PA Roy, Plaintiff reported sharp aching low back pain at a level 10/10. (Tr. 701.) Plaintiff also presented with hypertension and anxiety. (Id.) On examination, Plaintiff was alert and oriented with a normal mood and affect. (Tr. 703.) On June 9, 2015, PA Roy noted that Plaintiff reported stabbing pain in her low back level 8/10, depression, and hypertension. (Tr. 705.) On examination, Plaintiff was alert and oriented with a normal mood and affect. (Tr. 707.)

         On referral from Dr. Ferguson, Plaintiff was treated for back pain at Arizona Spine. (Tr. 622-30.) During her initial visit with Daniel Ryklin, M.D., on September 22, 2015, Plaintiff complained of sharp, shooting, stabbing low back pain at a level 10. (Tr. 623.) Plaintiff reported that the pain was aggravated with sitting and standing. (Id.) On review of Plaintiff's lumbar MRI, Dr. Ryklin noted that Plaintiff had “fairly preserved disc anatomy, no central canal foraminal stenosis.” (Id.; see Tr. 620-21.) Plaintiff had “multilevel facet hypertrophy as well as facet joint effusions.” (Tr. 623.) Plaintiff reported that she had been using “high-dose Gabapentin without much relief, ” and had tried Tramadol without relief. (Id.) Dr. Ryklin noted that Partners in Recovery was “prescribing current pain meds.” (Tr. 624.) Plaintiff's current medications were Gabapentin and Valium. (Id.) Plaintiff admitted having recently tried medical marijuana for pain. (Id.) Plaintiff consented to a urine drug screen. (Id.) Dr. Ryklin reviewed the results with Plaintiff and noted that the screen was positive for benzodiazepines (BZO) and marijuana (THC). (Tr. 624, 628-30.)

         On examination, Plaintiff was positive for back pain, but negative for muscle cramps, joint swelling, and joint stiffness. (Tr. 625.) Plaintiff was able to heel-walk and toe-walk without difficulty. (Id.) Plaintiff could perform a full squat and climb on the examination table without difficulty. (Id.) There was tenderness to palpation over the bilateral facet joints in the lumbar spine, range of movement in the lumbar spine “produced pain in the lower lumbar region which [was] consistent with [Plaintiff's] symptoms. (Tr. 626.) Straight leg raising test was negative bilaterally “with the exception of producing centralized axial back pain.” (Id.) Dr. Ryklin recommended a “trial of medial branch blocks under fluoroscopy to establish a more definitive diagnosis, ” and possible lumbar radiofrequency medial branch ablation to provide longer lasting pain relief. (Id.) Dr. Ryklin prescribed Norco for back pain and advised Plaintiff not to use medical marijuana while on Norco. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also sought treatment at urgent care or an emergency room for back pain, knee pain, upper respiratory infections, cold and sinus problems, anxiety, and chest pain. (Tr. 406, 632-37 (sinus problems), 651-54 (emotional problems), 758-858 (May 28, 2018, various issues treated at Banner Health).) In her opening brief, Plaintiff refers to “other relevant evidence” of physical impairments. (Doc. 25.) Plaintiff asserts that “many years ago” she had pre-cancerous cells that were discovered during a hysterectomy, but she did not follow-up on that issue. (Doc. 25 at 13-14.) Plaintiff also asserts that she has a “female condition that requires care” but states that she refuses to see a specialist for treatment. (Id. at 14.)

         C. Opinion Evidence

         1. Nicole Huggins, Psy.D.

         On April 10, 2013, Dr. Huggins with Trilogy Integrated Psychological Services performed a consultative psychological examination of Plaintiff. (Tr. 25, 279-87.) Dr. Huggins noted that Plaintiff was seeking Social Security disability benefits based on her reported difficulties with severe depression and anxiety. (Tr. 279.) Dr. Huggins conducted a clinical interview with Plaintiff, performed a “mini mental status examination” (“MMSE), and reviewed a psychological evaluation report from Dr. Kathy Thomas. (Tr. 280, 281.) Dr. Huggins considered Plaintiff's history of her present illness, episodes of decompensation, her social history, family and relationship history, mental health and medical treatment history, substance abuse history, “legal history, ” educational history, employment and financial management history, activities of daily living, and mental status. (Tr. 280-82.)

         Dr. Huggins noted that Plaintiff was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when she was seventeen. (Tr. 280.) Plaintiff reported that her symptoms of depression had increased significantly over the past few years making it difficult for her to work or engage in activities of daily living. (Id.) Plaintiff described her symptoms of depression as thoughts of not wanting to be alive daily. (Id.) She described her symptoms of anxiety as “tightness in her chest, shortness of breath, intrusive thoughts causing panic attacks.” (Id.) Plaintiff reported self-mutilation by picking or peeling her skin to relieve anxiety. (Tr. 282.) Plaintiff reported a history of paternal alcohol and child abuse. (Id.) Plaintiff reported that she lived at home with her ex-husband and his mother and four of her children. (Tr. 283.) Plaintiff reported that she cooked for them. (Id.) Plaintiff reported having difficulty maintaining her hygiene due to her depression. (Id.)

         Dr. Huggins diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder “by history, ” and thyroid issues. (Id.) She noted Plaintiff's problems with employment, housing and finances, and she assessed a GAF score of 65. (Id.) Dr. Huggins stated that Plaintiff's prognosis was “fair to good” and that she “would benefit from intensive psychological treatment.” (Id.) Based on her interview and MMSE of Plaintiff, Dr. Huggins completed a Psychological/Psychiatric Medical Source Statement (“MSS”). (Tr. 285-86.) She opined that Plaintiff had limitations that were expected to last twelve months from the date of her examination. (Tr. 285.) In areas of understanding and memory, Dr. Huggins opined that Plaintiff “demonstrated mostly adequate verbal comprehension and ability to use language” and that her “verbal and visual memory systems appear[ed] to be adequate.” (Id.) In areas of sustained concentration and persistence, Dr. Huggins opined that Plaintiff could carry out “simple procedures.” (Id.) Plaintiff “did not demonstrate difficulty sustaining attention during the interview and MMSE.” (Id.) In the areas of social interaction, Plaintiff reported no significant difficulties getting along with others or co-workers in previous jobs. (Id.) When “motivated to do so, ” Plaintiff could maintain personal hygiene and participate in household activities. (Id.) In the area of adapting to change, Dr. Huggins opined that Plaintiff did not demonstrate difficulty with attention and concentration during the interview and the examination. (Id.)

         2. Bradley Werrell, D.O.

         In early 2013, Dr. Werrell performed a consultative examination. (Tr. 272-78.) He noted that Plaintiff reported a history of low back pain since 2011. (Tr. 272.) Plaintiff reported that a chiropractor had recommended treatment for her “unusual spinal curvature, ” but she was unable to afford the treatment. (Id.) Dr. Werrell observed that Plaintiff had an “unusual affect.” (Tr. 273.) Plaintiff also had “mild difficulty” hearing conversation at “normal conversational tones.” (Id.) On examination, Dr. Werrell observed that Plaintiff had an unencumbered gait and that she performed tandem walking and heel and toe walking without difficulty. (Id.) Plaintiff could squat to 90 degrees and return to standing without using her upper extremities. (Id.) Plaintiff could hop “minimally well.” (Id.) A Rhomberg test was negative. (Id.) Plaintiff had full range of motion bilaterally in her upper and lower extremities and in her “axial skeleton.” (Tr. 274.) Plaintiff had normal muscle strength, tone, and bulk. (Id.) Plaintiff had intact sensation. (Id.) Straight leg raising test was negative, but Plaintiff had “reduced spinal curvature throughout the entire trunk.” (Id.) Based on his examination, Dr. Werrell opined that Plaintiff did not have a physical condition that would impose any limitations for twelve continuous months. (Tr. 274.) Dr. Werrell did not assess any limitations on a medical source statement of ability to do work-related physical activities. (Tr. 274-77.)

         3. Michael Alberti, M.D.

         In July 2014, Dr. Alberti examined Plaintiff. (Tr. 409-11.) Dr. Alberti noted that Plaintiff's affect was “slightly flat” but she was cooperative and moved without difficulty. (Tr. 410.) On examination, Dr. Alberti observed that Plaintiff had a normal range of motion in her spine and joints. (Tr. 410-11.) Straight leg raising was normal. (Tr. 411.) Plaintiff had normal (5/5) muscle strength, tone, and bulk. (Id.) Plaintiff had intact sensation and reflexes. (Id.) Dr. Alberti opined that Plaintiff did not have physical conditions that would impose any limitations for twelve continuous months. (Tr. 411.) Dr. Alberti did not assess any limitations. (Tr. 409-11.)

         4. Treating Source Statement

         The record includes a February 3, 2015 medical source statement (“spinal/arthritic dysfunction”). (Tr. 601-07.) The ALJ referred to this statement as a “treating source statement” completed by an unidentified individual associated with the McKellips Family Medical Clinic. (Tr. 17.) As the ALJ noted, it is difficult to read the signature and the statement does not otherwise identify its author. (Tr. 607.) Therefore, the Court refers to this as a treating source's statement. The treating source identifies Plaintiff's diagnosis as T12/L1 endplate fractures, “DOB L-spine” with a fair prognosis. (Tr. 601.) The treating source opined that Plaintiff could, for each activity, sit, stand, or walk for one hour during an eight-hour day and could not perform a job that had a sit/stand option. (Tr. 605, 606.) Plaintiff could occasionally lift and carry upon to ten pounds. (Id.) Plaintiff could never bend, squat, crawl, climb, or reach above shoulder height. (Tr. 606.) Additionally, Plaintiff was totally restricted in exposure to unprotected heights, machinery, and marked changes in temperature and humidity, dust, fumes, and gases. (Id.)

         The treating source opined that Plaintiff's pain and symptoms precluded full-time work because they, or side effects from related medications, impaired her ability to concentrate and sustain effort. (Id.) Additionally, Plaintiff would need frequent breaks that could not be accommodated on a regular schedule and she would frequently miss work. (Id.)

         III. The Administrative Hearing

         Plaintiff was born in 1969. (Tr. 154.) She attended, but did not complete, high school and had past work as a housekeeper and a stay-at-home mother. (Tr. 171, 282, 283.) Plaintiff testified that she was divorced and had three dependent children. (Tr. 87.) Plaintiff testified that her source of income at the time of hearing was “disability” from her ex-husband. (Tr. 87-88.) Plaintiff testified that she had completed ninth grade and did not have a GED. (Tr. 88.) Plaintiff stated that she was not looking for work because she was “trying to stay alive” and constantly wanted to kill herself. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she last worked a few years before the date of the hearing as a housekeeper in a rehabilitation hospital. (Id.) She worked there for a year-and-a-half. (Tr. 89.) Plaintiff testified that she left that job because she started having problems with her physical and mental health. (Id.)

         Plaintiff testified that she was unable to work because she was preoccupied by persistent suicidal thoughts. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that when she had suicidal thoughts she cut or hit herself. (Tr. 92.) Plaintiff testified that she engaged in that behavior at least once a day. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she had PTSD related to childhood sexual abuse. (Tr. 93.) Plaintiff stated that she had flashbacks about fifteen to twenty times a day that made her cry, hide, or hurt herself. (Id.) She testified that her medication made her extremely drowsy and dizzy. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she had stopped smoking, did not drink alcohol, and had tried “medical marijuana” for her depression but it did not work. (Tr. 90.)

         Plaintiff testified that she had fractures in her spine that caused numbness and severe pain. (Id.) Plaintiff stated that she had started treatment for her back pain but had stopped after she changed insurance and lost her doctor. (Tr. 93.) Plaintiff intended to get treatment for her back pain after she got her mental health under control. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she could sit for twenty minutes, stand for fifteen or twenty minutes, walk one block, and lift twenty pounds. (Tr. 90-91.) Plaintiff testified that she spent the day sleeping. (Tr. 91.) She did not do housework or cook. (Id.) Plaintiff lived with her mom and dad and her mom did the housework, most of the cooking, and reminded Plaintiff to attend to her personal hygiene. (Tr. 91, 95.) Plaintiff testified that she made sure her children got to school on time. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she drove “sometimes” when it was close to home. (Tr. 87.)

         A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the administrative hearing. (Tr. 95-99.) In response to a question from the ALJ, the VE testified that an individual who had no exertional limitations, but who was limited to simple, unskilled work, who could tolerate only moderate noise and must avoid exposure to “concentrated loud noises, ” and who was limited to “intermittent, brief, work-related contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors, ” could perform Plaintiff's past work as a housekeeper. (Tr. 97.) An individual with those limitations could also perform other work, including hand packager and linen room attendant. (Tr. 97-98.)

         In response to a question from Plaintiff's representative, the VE testified that an individual who would be off task more than ten percent of the day would be unable to perform any of the jobs that the VE had identified. (Tr. 98.) The VE also testified that missing more than two days of work per month would be “unacceptable” in the “lines of work” that the VE had identified. (Tr. 98-99.)

         IV. The ALJ's Decision

         A claimant is considered disabled under the Social Security Act if she is unable “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (providing a nearly identical standard for supplemental security income disability insurance benefits). To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ uses a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; see, e.g., Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1010 (9th Cir. 2014).

         A. The Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process

         In the first two steps, a claimant seeking disability benefits must demonstrate (1) that she is not presently engaged in a substantial gainful activity, and (2) that her medically determinable impairment or combinations of impairments is severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 404.1520(c), 416.920(b), 416.920(c). If a claimant meets steps one and two, there are two ways in which she may be found disabled at steps three through five.

         At step three, the claimant may prove that her impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Part 404. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and (d), 416.920(d). If claimant can prove such an impairment, the claimant is presumptively disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id.) If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At step four, the ALJ determines whether a claimant's RFC precludes her from performing her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

         If the claimant establishes this prima facie case, the burden shifts to the government at step five to establish that the claimant can perform other jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, work experience, and education. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); see, e.g., Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (“The burden of proof is on the claimant at steps one through four but shifts to the Commissioner at step five.”). If the government does not meet this burden, then the claimant is considered disabled within the meaning of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a); see, e.g., Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1011.

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.