United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable John J. Tuchi United States District Judge.
issue is the denial of pro se Plaintiff Marie Luise
Taliani's Application for Disability Insurance Benefits
by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
under the Social Security Act (“the Act”).
Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of that
denial, and the Court now addresses Plaintiff's Opening
Brief (Doc. 12, Pl.'s Br.) and Defendant SSA
Commissioner's Opposition (Doc. 13, Def.'s Br.). For
the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the
Administrative Law Judge's decision (R. at 25-37) as
upheld by the Appeals Council (R. at 9-11).
filed her Application for Disability Insurance benefits on
April 4, 2013, for a period of disability beginning July 1,
2011. Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on July
16, 2013, and upon reconsideration on March 20, 2014.
Plaintiff then testified at a hearing held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 3,
2015. (R. at 43-82.) On February 10, 2016, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's Applications. (R. at 25-37.) On June 2, 2017,
the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision and
excluded new evidence Plaintiff asked the Council to consider
because it did not show a reasonable possibility of changing
the outcome of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 9-11.)
considering the medical records and opinions, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has severe impairments of status post anterior
C6-7 fusion, status post left arm surgery, lumbar
degenerative disc disease, lumbar stenosis, right lower
extremity neuropathy, Crohn's disease, extreme obesity,
hypothyroidism, hypertension, and obstructive sleep apnea.
(R. at 29.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual
function capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
with some limitations, including her past relevant work as
wire transfer clerk and data entry clerk, such that she is
not disabled under the Act. (R. at 31-37.)
determining whether to reverse an ALJ's decision, the
district court reviews only those issues raised by the party
challenging the decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236
F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). The court may set aside
the Commissioner's disability determination only if it is
not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal
error. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir.
2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but
less than a preponderance; it is relevant evidence that a
reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion considering the record as a whole. Id. To
determine whether substantial evidence supports a decision,
the court must consider the record as a whole and may not
affirm simply by isolating a “specific quantum of
supporting evidence.” Id. As a general rule,
“[w]here the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's
decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.”
Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir.
2002) (citations omitted).
determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the
Act, the ALJ follows a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a). The claimant bears the burden of proof on the
first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner
at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098
(9th Cir. 1999). At the first step, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantial
gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so,
the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends.
Id. At step two, the ALJ determines whether the
claimant has a “severe” medically determinable
physical or mental impairment. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If not, the claimant is not disabled and
the inquiry ends. Id. At step three, the ALJ
considers whether the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals an
impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R.
Part 404. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the
claimant is automatically found to be disabled. Id.
If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four. Id. At step
four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC and determines
whether the claimant is still capable of performing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If so,
the claimant is not disabled and the inquiry ends.
Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth and final
step to determine whether the claimant can perform any other
work in the national economy based on the claimant's RFC,
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
Id. If not, the claimant is disabled. Id.
Plaintiff Failed to Comply with the Court's Order Setting
Forth the Briefing Requirements in this Case
Response (Def.'s Br. at 5-7), Defendant first argues that
the Court should dismiss this case because Plaintiff failed
to comply with the Court's procedural and briefing
requirements in this case, and the Court agrees. On October
25, 2017, the Court entered an Order (Doc. 4) requiring the
Opening Brief to include, among other things, an Argument
The argument, which may be preceded by a summary, must be
divided into sections separately treating each issue.
Each contention must be supported by specific
reference to the portion of the record [by reference to
specific page numbers] relied upon and by citations to
statutes, regulations, and cases supporting Plaintiff's
(Doc. 4 at 2 (emphasis in original).) The Court stated that
the parties were required to strictly comply with the
provisions of the Order. (Doc. 4 at 1.)
did not comply at all, let alone strictly comply, with the
briefing requirements. For example, in her Opening Brief,
Plaintiff argues in conclusory fashion that the ALJ failed to
comply with 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527-entitled Evaluating
Opinion Evidence-without pointing to any portions of the
ALJ's opinion or specific medical records and without
citing case law or other legal authority to support her
contention. While the Court affords the briefs of pro
se litigants “the benefit of any doubt, ”
Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir.
2012), the Court need not go so far as to act as counsel or
formulate arguments for pro se litigants, Pliler
v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231 (2004). Plaintiff's
Opening Brief does not begin to adequately inform the Court
of the portions of the ALJ's opinion Plaintiff disputes