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Loveall v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 11, 2019

Valerie Loveall, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.


          Honorable Lynnette C. Kimmins, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Valerie Loveall 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 Loveall's Opening Brief, Defendant's Responsive Brief, and Loveall's Reply. (Docs. 18-20.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record, the Court remands this matter for benefits.


         Loveall filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) in March 2014. (Administrative Record (AR) 163.) She alleged disability from December 31, 2013. (Id.) Loveall's application was denied upon initial review (AR 87-96) and on reconsideration (AR 97-106). A hearing was held on January 21, 2016. (AR 45-86.) Subsequently, the ALJ found that Loveall was not disabled. (AR 24-40). The Appeals Council denied Loveall's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


         Loveall was born on March 26, 1971, making her 43 years of age at the onset date of her alleged disability. (AR 163.) Loveall had worked as a pharmacy technician since 1990, before she was laid off at the end of December 2013. (AR 51, 55, 59.)

         The ALJ found that Loveall had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, osteopenia, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. (AR 29.) The ALJ determined Loveall had the RFC to perform light work but could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl no more than frequently. (AR 32.) The ALJ concluded at Step Five, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, that Loveall could perform work available in the national economy. (AR 39-40.)


         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).


         Loveall argues the ALJ committed two errors: (1) she erred in giving treating physician Dr. Tok's opinion reduced weight; and (2) she failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Loveall's credibility.

         Medical Opinion of Dr. Tok

         Loveall argues the ALJ failed to provide specific legitimate reasons to reject the opinion of treating physician Dr. Tok. The opinion of a treating physician generally is afforded more weight than a non-examining or reviewing physician's opinion. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995). The opinion of Dr. Tok was contradicted by that of reviewing physician Dr. Wright. When there are contradictory medical opinions, to reject a treating physician's opinion, the ALJ must provide ‚Äúspecific ...

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