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Wyatt v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 11, 2019

Darcy Lynn Wyatt, Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew Saul, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE LYNNETTE C. KIMMINS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Darcy Wyatt filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). (Doc. 1.) Before the Court are Wyatt's Opening Brief, Defendant's Responsive Brief, and Wyatt's Reply. (Docs. 16-18.) The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 13.) Based on the pleadings and the administrative record, the Court remands for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Wyatt filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) in May 2015. (Administrative Record (AR) 298.) She alleged disability from November 1, 2008. (Id.) Wyatt's application was denied upon initial review (AR 196-205) and on reconsideration (AR 206-21). A hearing was held on May 16, 2017. (AR 167-95.) Subsequently, the ALJ found that Wyatt was not disabled. (AR 25-32.) The Appeals Council denied Wyatt's request for review. (AR 1.)

         FACTUAL HISTORY

         Wyatt was born in 1958 and was 59 years of age at the time of the ALJ's decision. (AR 298.) The ALJ found that Wyatt had severe impairments of COPD, Crohn's disease, right degenerative meniscus tear without mechanical symptoms, and status post double mastectomy. (AR 27.) The ALJ determined Wyatt had the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform the full range of light work. (AR 29.) The ALJ concluded at Step Four, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, that Wyatt could perform her past relevant work as a gas station cashier, gas station manager, and retail cashier. (AR 31.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate DIB claims. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-462 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing she (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 her from performing her past work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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, he does not proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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).

         DISCUSSION

         Wyatt argues the ALJ committed two errors: (1) he failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting her symptom testimony; and (2) he failed to account for limitations arising from her Crohn's disease in the RFC.

         Wyatt's Symptom Testimony

         Wyatt argues the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons to reject her symptom testimony. In general, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely” for the ALJ. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 750 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982)). However, “[w]hile an ALJ may certainly find testimony not credible and disregard it . . . [the court] cannot affirm such a determination unless it is supported by specific findings and reasoning.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 884-85 (9th Cir. 2006); Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 345-346 (9th Cir. 1995) (requiring specificity to ensure a reviewing court the ALJ did not arbitrarily reject a claimant's subjective testimony); SSR 96-7p. “To determine whether a claimant's testimony regarding subjective pain or symptoms is credible, an ALJ must engage in a two-step analysis.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035-36 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Initially, “the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment ‘which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.'” Id. at 1036 (quoting Bunnell, 947 F.2d at 344). The ALJ found Wyatt had satisfied part one of the test by proving impairments that could produce the symptoms alleged. (AR 30.) Next, “unless an ALJ makes a finding of malingering based on affirmative evidence thereof, he or she may only find an applicant not credible by making specific findings as to credibility and stating clear and convincing reasons for each.” Robbins, 466 F.3d at 883; Benton v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1040 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding an ALJ can reject claimant testimony if he finds evidence of malingering). The ALJ did not make an ...


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