United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable Diane J. Humetewa United States District Judge.
issue is the denial of Plaintiff Kristal Ratliff'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. 20,
Pl.'s Br.), Defendant SSA Commissioner's Opposition
(Doc. 21, Def.'s Br.), and Plaintiff's Reply (Doc.
24, Reply). The Court has reviewed the briefs and the
Administrative Record (Doc. 16, R.) and reverses the
Administrative Law Judge's decision (R. at 21-37) as
upheld by the Appeals Council (R. at 1-3).
filed her Application for Disability Insurance Benefits on
February 26, 2014 for a period of disability beginning June
7, 2013. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on July
7, 2014, and upon reconsideration on February 12, 2015.
Plaintiff then testified at a hearing held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 21,
2016. (R. at 48-76.) On January 26, 2017, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's Application. (R. at 21-37.) On January 25,
2018, the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision. (R.
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 evaluated
Plaintiff's disability based on the following alleged
impairments: fibromyalgia; cognitive disorder; sleep apnea;
cervical degenerative disc disease; attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder; depressive disorder; anxiety
disorder; obesity; and polyneuropathy. (R. at 23.)
the ALJ determined 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.” (R. at 24.) The ALJ
then found that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to “perform sedentary work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)” in a role such as
document preparer, address clerk, or call-out operator. (R.
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 the
determination 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
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, where he determines 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.
raises two arguments for the Court's consideration: (1)
the ALJ erred by rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's
treating physicians; and (2) the ALJ erred by discrediting
Plaintiff's symptom testimony. (Pl.'s Br. at 1.)
The ALJ Erred by Discrediting the Opinions of Plaintiff's
“[t]he ALJ must consider all medical opinion evidence,
” there is a hierarchy among the sources of medical
opinions. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041
(9th Cir. 2008). Those who have treated a claimant are
treating physicians, those who examined but did not treat the
claimant are examining physicians, and those who neither
examined nor treated the claimant are nonexamining
physicians. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th
Cir. 1995). “As a general rule, more weight should be
given to the opinion of a treating source than to the opinion
of doctors who did not treat the claimant.”
this hierarchy, if the treating physician's evidence is
controverted by a nontreating or nonexamining physician, the
ALJ may disregard it only after “setting forth
specific, legitimate reasons for doing so that are based on
substantial evidence in the record.” Murray v.
Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 502 (9th Cir. 1983). “The
ALJ can meet this burden by setting out a detailed and
thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical
evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making
findings.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747,
751 (9th Cir. 1989). ...