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Reis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 14, 2019

Joanna Reis, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Joanna Reis 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.) In response, Defendant requested a remand for further proceedings, to which Plaintiff replied seeking a remand for payment of benefits. (Docs. 22, 23.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 14.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record, the Court remands this matter for benefits.


         Reis filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) in March 2014. (Administrative Record (AR) 187.) She alleged disability from September 20, 2013. (Id.) Reis's application was denied upon initial review (AR 60-80) and on reconsideration (AR 81-102). A hearing was held on June 9, 2016. (AR 41-59.) Subsequently, the ALJ found that Reis was not disabled. (AR 20-31). The Appeals Council denied Reis's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


         Reis was born on June 23, 1976, making her 37 years of age at the onset date of her alleged disability. (AR 187.) Reis has a college degree and worked most recently in a clinical position with COPE Community Services from 2007 to 2013. (AR 210.)

         The ALJ found that Reis had the severe impairments of other disorders of the nervous system, obesity, cervical disorders, tardive dyskinesia, chronic pain, obstructive sleep apnea, affective disorders, and anxiety disorders. (AR 22.) The ALJ determined Reis had the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform light work but could balance and stoop only frequently; climb ramps/stairs, kneel, crouch, and crawl occasionally; and never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds. (AR 24.) The ALJ stated that Reis could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, respond appropriately to supervisors, coworkers, and work situations, and maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for two-hour periods without a break. (AR 24-25.) The ALJ concluded at Step Five, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, that Reis could perform work available in the national economy. (AR 30-31.)


         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).


         Reis argues the ALJ committed three errors: (1) he failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting her credibility; (2) he erred in giving reduced weight to treating and examining physician opinions; and (3) he failed to include all of Reis's limitations in the RFC.


         Reis 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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