United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. TEILBORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Plaintiff Tammy Lee Sperry's
(“Plaintiff”) appeal from the Social Security
Commissioner's (the “Commissioner”) denial of
her application for a period of disability, disability
insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq.,
1381 et seq. (Doc. 1 at 1; Doc. 10-3 at 27; Doc. 11
at 1). This matter has been fully briefed by the
parties. The Court now rules on Plaintiff's
parties are familiar with the background information in this
case, and it is summarized in the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ”) decision. (Doc. 10-3 at
27-41). Accordingly, the Court will reference the background
only as necessary to the analysis below.
ALJ's decision to deny disability benefits may be
overturned “only when the ALJ's findings are based
on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in
the record.” Benton ex rel. Benton v.
Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003).
“‘Substantial evidence' means more than a
mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance, i.e., such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Robbins v. Soc.
Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing
Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 183 (9th Cir.
inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, 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). “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.” Id. (citations omitted); see
Batson v. Comm'r of 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 Benton, 331 F.3d at 1035
(“If the evidence can support either outcome, the
Commissioner's decision must be upheld.”).
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 ALJ'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) (internal quotations omitted).
the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and
making its own judgment as to whether Plaintiff is or is not
disabled. Rather, it is a “fundamental rule of
administrative law” that a reviewing court, in dealing
with a judgement which an administrative agency alone is
authorized to make, may only make its decision based upon
evidence discussed by the agency. Sec. & Exch.
Comm'n v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 (1947).
Thus, 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). Similarly, when challenging an
ALJ's decision, “issues which are not specifically
and distinctly argued and raised in a party's opening
brief are waived.” Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley
Trans. Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 919 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing
Barnett v. U.S. Air, Inc., 228 F.3d 1105, 1110 n. 1
(9th Cir. 2000) (en banc), vacated and remanded on other
grounds, 535 U.S. 391 (2002)); see also Bray v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1226 n. 7
(9th Cir. 2009) (applying the principle to Social Security
appeals). Accordingly, the Court “will not manufacture
arguments for an appellant.” Arpin, 261 F.3d
at 919 (citation omitted).
Definition of a Disability
claimant can qualify for Social Security disability benefits
only if she can show that, among other things, she is
disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). The Social Security
Act defines “disability” as the “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.” Id. § 423(d)(1)(A).
A person is disabled only if her “physical or mental
impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is
not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot,
considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” Id. §
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
process for evaluating a claim of disability. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998). Finding the
claimant “disabled” or “not disabled”
at any step ends the inquiry. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). If such a finding cannot be made at a
particular step, then the ALJ continues to the next step.
Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof at the
first four steps, but the burden shifts to the ALJ at the
final step. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721. The five steps
are as follows:
the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the ALJ will find she is not
second step, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has a
“severe medically determinable impairment physical or
mental impairment.” Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If she does not, the ALJ will find she is
not disabled. Id. A “severe impairment”
is one that “significantly limits [the claimant's]
physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” Id. § 404.1520(c). Basic
work activities are “the abilities and aptitudes
necessary to do most jobs, ” such as lifting, carrying,
reaching, understanding, carrying out and remembering simple
instructions, responding appropriately to co-workers, and
dealing with changes in a routine work setting. Id.
§ 404.1522(b). Additionally, unless the claimant's
impairment is expected to result in death, “it must
have lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of
at least 12 months” for the claimant to be found
disabled. Id. § 404.1509.
third step, the ALJ considers the severity of the
claimant's impairment. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii). This requires the ALJ to determine if
the claimant's impairment “meets or equals”
one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. 404, subpart P,
Appendix 1. Id. If the impairment meets or equals a
listed impairment, then the ALJ will find that the claimant
is disabled. Id. If the claimant's impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the ALJ will
assess the claimant's “residual functional capacity
based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in [the
claimant's] case record.” Id. §
404.1520(e). In assessing the claimant's “residual
functional capacity” (“RFC”), the ALJ will
consider the claimant's “impairment(s), and any
related symptoms, such as pain, [that] may cause physical and
mental limitations that affect what [the claimant] can do in
a work setting.” Id. § 404.1545(a)(1). A
claimant's RFC is the most the claimant can still do
despite the effects of all the claimant's medically
determinable impairments, including those that are not
severe. Id. § 404.1545(a)(1)-(2).
fourth step, the ALJ considers the claimant's ability to
perform her “past relevant work.” Id.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). To do this, the ALJ compares the
claimant's residual function capacity with the physical
and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work.
Id. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can still
perform her past relevant work, the ALJ will find that the
claimant is not disabled. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to the final
fifth and last step, the ALJ considers whether the claimant
can “make an adjustment to other work” that
exists in the national economy. Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the ALJ
considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience. Id. If the ALJ finds that the claimant
can make an adjustment to other work, then the claimant is
not disabled. Id. ...