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Butler v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 27, 2019

Myra Butler, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Michelle H. Bums United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Myra Butler's appeal from the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits. After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 4, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning June 14, 2014. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. A hearing was held on January 10, 2017, and the ALJ issued a decision on March 13, 2017, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The ALJ's decision to deny benefits will be overturned “only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation marks omitted). “Substantial evidence” means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. See Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).

         “The inquiry here is whether the record ... yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached by the ALJ.” Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support a decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. See Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. “Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence.” Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453 (citations omitted); see Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This is because “[t]he trier of fact 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 v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992); see Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990).

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). On the other hand, the Court “may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted).

         Notably, the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and making its own judgment as to whether a plaintiff is or is not disabled. Rather, the Court's inquiry is constrained to the reasons asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied upon in support of those reasons. See Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).

         III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         In order to be eligible for disability or social security benefits, a claimant must demonstrate an “inability 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). An ALJ determines a claimant's eligibility for benefits by following a five-step sequential evaluation:

(1) determine whether the applicant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity”;
(2) determine whether the applicant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments;
(3) determine whether the applicant's impairment equals one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges as so severe as to preclude the applicant from engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(4) if the applicant's impairment does not equal one of the listed impairments, determine whether the applicant is capable of performing his or her past relevant work;
(5) if the applicant is not capable of performing his or her past relevant work, determine whether the applicant is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience.

See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920). At the fifth stage, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful work. See Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993).

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 14, 2014 - her alleged onset date. (Tr. at 19.) At step two, he found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative changes of the lumbar spine and obesity. (Tr. at 19-20.) At step three, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. at 20.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity “to perform sedentary work (lifting and carrying ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently) as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except the claimant is limited to standing and/or walking up to two hours and sitting at least six hours in an eight-hour day. The claimant is limited to occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant is limited to occasionally stooping, but never crawling or crouching. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, wetness, humidity, vibration, unprotected heights, and moving and dangerous machinery.”[1] (Tr. at 20-24.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a placement coordinator, finding that this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the residual functional capacity. (Tr. at 24-25.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from June 14, 2014, through the date of his decision. (Tr. at 25.)

         IV. DISCUSSION

         In her brief, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly weigh the medical source opinion evidence; and (2) failing to properly consider her subjective complaints. Plaintiff requests that the Court remand for a determination of benefits.

         A. Medical ...


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