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Canez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 20, 2019

Eugene Edward Canez, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.


          Honorable Lynnette C. Kimmins United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Eugene Canez brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). Canez filed an opening brief, Defendant filed a brief requesting remand, and Canez filed a reply. (Docs. 16, 20, 22.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13.) Based on the pleadings and the Administrative Record, the Court remands this matter for benefits.


         Canez filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in December 2013. (Administrative Record (AR) 185.) He alleged disability from December 19, 2006. (Id.) Canez's application was denied upon initial review (AR 64-76) and on reconsideration (AR 77-90). A hearing was held on January 23, 2017 (AR 33-53), after which the ALJ found that Canez was not disabled because he could perform other work available in the national economy (AR 15-26). The Appeals Council denied Canez's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


         Canez was born in 1964 and was 49 at his protective filing date. (AR 185.) Canez has past relevant work as a nursing home housekeeper and a yard worker. (AR 24, 37, 38.)

         The ALJ found Canez had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and right eye blindness. (AR 17.) The ALJ determined Canez had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform:

Light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a), specifically the Claimant can lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand or walk for six hours total, and sit for six hours total in an eight-hour workday. However, the climbing of ramps and stairs must be limited to occasionally, while the climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds must be entirely precluded from work duties as assigned. Stooping or bending at the waist are limited to occasionally. Kneeling, crouching, bending at the knees, and crawling must be entirely precluded from assigned work duties. Tasks requiring depth perception or field of vision must likewise be entirely precluded from duties as assigned. Finally, exposure to dust, odors, and gases must be precluded entirely from within the assigned work area.

(AR 19.) The ALJ concluded at Step Five, based on the Medical-Vocational Rules and the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), that Canez could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy (fast food worker and cashier II). (AR 25.)


         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate SSI claims. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-462 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing he (1) is not working; (2) has a severe physical or mental impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; and (4) claimant's RFC precludes him from performing his past work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). If the Commissioner conclusively finds the claimant “disabled” or “not disabled” at any point in the five-step process, she does not proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

         “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989)). The findings of the Commissioner are meant to be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992)). The court may overturn the decision to deny benefits only “when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001). This is so because the ALJ “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, 981 F.2d at 1019 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 400 (1971)); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner's decision, however, “cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Reviewing courts must consider the evidence that supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir. 1975).


         Canez argues the ALJ erred in five ways: (1) in finding Canez could stand and/or walk for 6 hours per workday; (2) in finding Canez did not need a cane to stand and/or walk; (3) in finding Canez could perform prolonged standing and/or walking; (4) in finding Canez could work as a fast food worker despite an RFC that prohibited exposure to dust, odors, and gases; and (5) in not finding Canez disabled at Step Five based on an accurate RFC. Canez requests a remand for the award of benefits or, alternatively, a remand that includes all identified errors.

         Defendant agrees the ALJ erred as to Canez's claim 1 by rejecting without explanation Dr. Hassman's opinion that Canez could stand and/or walk for only three hours in an eight-hour day. Defendant argues that further proceedings are necessary, and she disagrees with Canez's request for an award of benefits. Defendant argues there are conflicts in the record that the ALJ must resolve: Dr. Hassman's opinion on Canez's standing and walking abilities conflicted with the opinions of Drs. Fahlberg and Hirsch; and examinations from various doctors were in conflict regarding whether Canez's gait was impaired and if he needed a cane. Other than her citations to conflicting evidence, Defendant's brief did not address the substance of Canez's claims of error numbered by the Court as two through five.

         As discussed below, the Court finds Canez's first three claims dispositive and, therefore, does ...

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