United States District Court, D. Arizona
Teresa Y. Lockwood, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
DOMINIC W. LANZA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Teresa Y. Lockwood (“Lockwood”) seeks review
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), which denied her application
for disability and disability insurance benefits. As
explained below, the Court affirms.
Court addresses only the issues raised by the claimant in the
appeal from the ALJ's decision. Lewis v. Apfel,
236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). “The ALJ is
responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts
in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.”
Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
2001), as amended on reh'g (Aug. 9, 2001). The
Court should uphold the ALJ's decision “unless it
contains legal error or is not supported by substantial
evidence.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is more than a
mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.”
Id. Put another way, “[i]t is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).
The Court should uphold the ALJ's decision “[w]here
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, ” but the Court “must consider
the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by
isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.”
Id. (citations and internal quotation marks
error principles apply in the Social Security Act
context.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104,
1115 (9th Cir. 2012). “[A]n ALJ's error is harmless
where it is inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.” Id. (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted). The Court must “look at the
record as a whole to determine whether the error alters the
outcome of the case.” Id. Importantly,
however, the Court may not uphold an ALJ's decision on a
ground not actually relied on by the ALJ. Id. at
determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the
Social Security 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 and 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 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. Id. §
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. pt.
404. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the
claimant is automatically found to be disabled. Id.
If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ
assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determines whether the claimant is
capable of performing past relevant work. Id. §
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, which addresses whether the
claimant can perform any other work based on the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience.
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is
not disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled.
is a high school graduate who previously worked as an auto
service station manager in Colorado for 23 years. (A.R. 58.)
Lockwood left that job on June 19, 2014, when her doctor
informed her that she could “not perform the duties of
[her] job without assistan[ce].” (Id.)
Lockwood has since received long-term disability benefits.
(A.R. 62.) Those benefits will terminate in 2024.
2, 2014, Lockwood filed a Title II application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging
that her disability began on June 19, 2014. (A.R. 197-98.)
September 13, 2016, the hearing occurred before the ALJ.
(A.R. 52-88.) Lockwood and a vocational expert
(“VE”) each testified. (A.R. 52.)
December 1, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Lockwood's application. (A.R. 16-28.)
December 19, 2016, Lockwood requested review of the ALJ's
decision. (A.R. 194-96.)
August 17, 2017, the Appeals Council denied this request,
adopting the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the
Commissioner. (A.R. 2-8.)