Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wilson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 14, 2019

Tera Larae Wilson, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge.

         At issue is the denial of Plaintiff Tera Larae Wilson's Application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) with this Court seeking judicial review of that denial, and the Court now addresses Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Doc. 12, “Pl.'s Br.”), Defendant Social Security Administration Commissioner's Opposition (Doc. 16, “Def.'s Br.”), and Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. 19, “Reply”). The Court has reviewed the briefs and Administrative Record (Doc. 11, R.) and now reverses the Administrative Law Judge's decision (R. at 11-23) as upheld by the Appeals Council (R. at 1-4).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits on August 14, 2013 for a period of disability beginning September 12, 2013.[1] (R. at 11.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on February 25, 2014 (R. at 11), and on reconsideration on July 3, 2014 (R. at 11). Plaintiff then testified at two hearings held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), the first on December 14, 2016, and the second on April 11, 2016. (R. at 11.) On May 25, 2016, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's Application. (R. at 23.) On February 8, 2018, the Appeals Council denied a request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 1- 4.) On April 3, 2018, Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review of the denial.

         The 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: obesity; hearing loss; status post knee surgery; diabetes mellitus; anxiety; personality disorder; bipolar disorder; post traumatic stress disorder; substance addiction disorder; and hypertension. (R. at 14.)

         Ultimately, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404.” (R. at 14-15.) The ALJ then found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to “perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b)” in a role such as housekeeper, marker, or router. (R. at 16, 22.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In 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 omitted).

         To 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. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff raises three arguments for the Court's consideration: (1) the ALJ erred by rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating nurse practitioners; (2) the ALJ erred by rejecting Plaintiff's symptom testimony; and (3) the ALJ failed to consider all of Plaintiff's limitations in determining Plaintiff's mental work capacities.

         A. The ALJ Erred in Discrediting the Opinions of Nurse Practitioners Pray and Hammond

         The ALJ discredited Pray and Hammond's opinions, in part, because they are nurse practitioners, and thus not an “acceptable medical source” per a section of the Federal Code of Regulations in effect at the time Plaintiff filed her disability claim. 20 C.F.R.§ 404.1513(a) (2013).[2] Under this pre-2017 version, a nurse practitioner falls under subsection (d)(1) for “other sources” who are “[m]edical sources not listed in paragraph (a) of this section.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513(d)(1) (2013). But section 404.1527, also in force at the time of Plaintiff's Application, instructs that:

[d]epending on the particular facts in a case, and after applying the factors for weighing opinion evidence, an opinion from a medical source who is not an acceptable medical source . . . may outweigh the medical opinion of an acceptable medical source, including the medical opinion of a treating source. For example, it may be appropriate to give more weight to the opinion of a medical source who is not an acceptable medical source if he or she has seen the individual more often than the treating source, has provided ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.