United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable John J. Tuchi, United States District Judge.
issue is the denial of Plaintiff Margaret Marquis'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.), Defendant SSA Commissioner's Opposition
(Doc. 13, Def.'s Br.), and Plaintiff's Reply (Doc.
14, Reply). The Court has reviewed the briefs and the
Administrative Record (Doc. 11, R.) and affirms the
Administrative Law Judge's decision (R. at 29-41) as
upheld by the Appeals Council (R. at 1-3).
filed her Application for Disability Insurance Benefits on
March 16, 2014 for a period of disability beginning March 2,
2014. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on October
21, 2014, and upon reconsideration on May 7, 2015. Plaintiff
then testified at a hearing held before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) on November 9, 2016. (R. at 48-76.)
On February 8, 2017, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's
Applications. (R. at 29-41.) On January 29, 2018, the Appeals
Council upheld the ALJ's decision. (R. at 1-3.)
Court has reviewed the medical evidence in its entirety and
finds it unnecessary to provide a complete summary here. The
pertinent medical evidence will be discussed in addressing
the issues raised by the parties. In short, upon considering
the medical records and opinions, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has severe impairments of affective disorder;
cervical degenerative disc disease (“DDD”); and
lumbar DDD. (R. at 31.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has
the residual function capacity (“RFC”) to perform
her past relevant work as a cook helper, such that she was
not disabled under the Act. (R. at 40- 41.)
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.
raises two arguments for the Court's consideration: (1)
the ALJ erred in giving more weight to the assessment of the
nonexamining state agency physician on reconsideration than
that of the nonexamining state agency physician on initial
evaluation with regard to Plaintiff's physical RFC; and
(2) the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff's
testimony was not entirely credible. (Pl.'s Br. at 2.)
The ALJ Properly Weighed the Nonexamining State Agency
initial review of Plaintiff's Application for Disability
Insurance Benefits, Dr. Schofield, the nonexamining state
agency physician, determined among other things that
Plaintiff has the physical RFC to lift 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently. (R. at 86.) In the reconsideration
phase of review of Plaintiff's Application, Dr. Alberty,
the nonexamining state agency physician, determined that
Plaintiff has the physical RFC to lift 50 pounds occasionally
and 25 pounds frequently. (R. at 101.) The ALJ gave more
weight to the latter assessment because it was completed more
recently, when additional records were available, and
consistent with Plaintiff's activities of daily living
and the records of conservative treatment for her conditions.
(R. at 39; see also R. at 34-38.)
is responsible for resolving conflicts in the medical
evidence. Carmickle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 533
F.3d 1155, 1164 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Lester v.
Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830-31 (9th Cir. 1996)). Where a
medical opinion is contradicted by another, “it may be
rejected for specific and legitimate reasons that are
supported by substantial evidence in the record.”
Id. “Where evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's
conclusion that must be upheld.” Burch v.
Burnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
found Dr. Alberty's RFC assessment merited more weight
because it was more recent and made after consideration of
additional medical evidence, which by itself is a specific
and legitimate reason supported by medical evidence in the
record to substantiate the ALJ's resolution of the
conflict between Dr. Alberty's and Dr. Schofield's
assessments. The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff received
conservative treatment for the right shoulder pain she
reported, and she improved with physical therapy such that
the pain did not produce physical limitations beyond those
determined by Dr. Alberty. (R. at 39; see also R. at
36-37 (ALJ noting reports of Plaintiff's right shoulder
improvement with treatment and the lack of any records
indicating that Plaintiff went to the last two authorized
appointments for ...