United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable John Z. Boyle, United States Magistrate Judge.
Frances Anne Mehok Antti seeks review under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied her
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of
the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is not supported
by substantial evidence and is based on legal error, the
Commissioner’s decision will be vacated and the matter
remanded for calculation of benefits.
December 23, 2011, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income, alleging
disability beginning November 23, 2011. On October 30, 2013,
she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing
before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On
February 4, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for
review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ’s
decision the Commissioner’s final decision. Plaintiff
filed an action for judicial review, which remanded for
further administrative proceedings. Mehok Antti v.
Colvin, No. CV 15-01607-PHX-DMF (D. Ariz. Dec. 22,
2016). (AR 791-812.)
remand from the Social Security Administration Appeals
Council, on October 30, 2017, ALJ Schum issued a decision
that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act.
district court reviews only those issues raised by the party
challenging the ALJ’s 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, less than a preponderance,
and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as
a whole. Id. In determining 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
is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities.
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995). In reviewing the ALJ’s reasoning, the court is
“not deprived of [its] faculties for drawing specific
and legitimate inferences from the ALJ’s
opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747,
755 (9th Cir. 1989).
The ALJ’s Five-Step Evaluation Process.
determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the
Social Security 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 at step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is
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. §
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. Pt.
404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is
automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the
ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the
claimant’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and determines whether the claimant is
still capable of performing past relevant work. §
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 based on the
claimant’s RFC, age, education, and work experience.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not
disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2014, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since November 23, 2011. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
degenerative changes of the cervical and lumbar spine,
fibromyalgia, and depression. At step three, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an
impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC
light work (lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and
ten pounds frequently, sitting for six hours out of eight,
and standing/walking for six hours out of eight) as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant could occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. Claimant could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch,
but could never crawl. Claimant could frequently reach
overhead. Claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme cold, unprotected heights and moving mechanical
machinery. Claimant could understand, remember, and carry out
simple instructions and tasks.
further found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of her
past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that,
considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff could perform.
argues the ALJ’s decision is defective for two reasons:
(1) the ALJ erred in rejecting Dr. Lawson’s
assessments, and (2) the ALJ erred in rejecting
Plaintiff’s symptom testimony. (Doc. 19.) The Court
will address each argument below.
Weighing of Medical Source Evidence.
argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinions
of the examining physician, Dr. David Lawson.
Ninth Circuit distinguishes between the opinions of treating
physicians, examining physicians, and non-examining
physicians. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830
(9th Cir. 1995). Generally, an ALJ should give greatest
weight to a treating physician’s opinion and more
weight to the opinion of an examining physician than to one
of a non-examining physician. See Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1040-41 (9th Cir. 1995); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)-(6) (listing
factors to be considered when evaluating opinion evidence,
including length of examining or treating relationship,
frequency of examination, consistency with the record, and
support from objective evidence). If it is not contradicted
by another doctor’s opinion, the opinion of a treating
or examining physician can be rejected only for “clear
and convincing” reasons. Lester, 81 F.3d at
830 (citing Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th
Cir. 1988)). A contradicted opinion of a treating or
examining physician “can only be rejected for specific
and legitimate reasons that are supported by substantial
evidence in the record.” Lester, 81 F.3d at
830-31 (citing Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1043).
can meet the “specific and legitimate reasons”
standard “by setting out a detailed and thorough
summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence,
stating his interpretation thereof, and making
findings.” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664,
675 (9th Cir. 2017) (quotations omitted). But
“[t]he ALJ must do more than offer [her] conclusions.
[She] must set forth [her] own interpretations and explain
why they, rather than the doctors’, are correct.”
Embrey, 849 F.2d at 421-22. The Commissioner is
responsible for determining whether a claimant meets the
statutory definition of disability ...