United States District Court, D. Arizona
J. Tuchi United States District Judge
issue is the denial of Plaintiff Melissa Menendez's
Applications for Supplemental Security Income Benefits and
Disability Insurance 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. 18, “Pl. Br.”), Defendant Social
Security Administration Commissioner's Response Brief
(Doc. 19, “Def. Br.”), and Plaintiff's Reply
Brief (Doc. 27, “Reply”). The Court has reviewed
the briefs and Administrative Record (Doc. 11,
“R.”) and now reverses the Administrative Law
Judge's decision (R. at 14-43) as upheld by the Appeals
Council (R. at 1-8).
filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income Benefits on March 16, 2015 for a
period of disability beginning on August 1, 2014. (R. at 17.)
Plaintiff's claims were denied on May 14, 2015. (R. at
17.) They were denied on reconsideration on August 25, 2015.
(R. at 17.) Plaintiff then appeared before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) for a hearing on her claims.
(R. at 17.) The ALJ denied her claims on January 16, 2018.
(R. at 14-43.) On June 6, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
her request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. at
1-8). On August 3, 2018, Plaintiff filed this action seeking
judicial review of the denials. (Doc. 1.)
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: status post bladder surgeries, fibromyalgia,
bursitis of the hip, obesity, knee impairment, hypertension,
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine,
reflux esophagitis, and supraventricular tachycardia. (R. at
the ALJ evaluated the medical evidence and opinions and
concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. 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 C.F.R.
Part 404. (R. at 23.) The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work, “except that she should not be
exposed to hazards such as moving machinery or unprotected
heights.” (R. at 24.) Furthermore, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff can “occasionally climb stairs and
ramps”, but “can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds.” (R. at 24.) Finally, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff can perform the requirements of representative work
such as telephone order clerk, charge account clerk, and
bench hand. (R. at 34-35.)
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 she 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. . . . .
raises three arguments for the Court's consideration: (1)
the ALJ erred in rejecting the medical opinions of Dr.
Kalinowski, treating urologist, and Dr. Hisscock, treating
primary care physician; (2) the ALJ erred in rejecting
Plaintiff's testimony; and (3) the ALJ erred in
undervaluing the medical opinions of Dr. Campbell, treating
orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Woodward, examining psychologist,
as to Plaintiff's limitations. (Pl. Br. at 4-5.) However,
because the Court finds the first two issues dispositive of
the case, the Court need not address Plaintiff's third
The ALJ erred by giving minimal weight to the opinions of
Plaintiff's treating urologist and
primary care physician.
“[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). “The medical opinion of a claimant's
treating physician is given ‘controlling weight' so
long as ‘it is well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with other substantial evidence in [the
record].” Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664,
675 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)).
If a treating physician's opinion is not given
controlling weight, then the ALJ must consider the relevant
factors listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)-(6) and
determine the appropriate weight to give the opinion.
Orn, 495 F.3d at 632. The failure to consider these
factors is reversible legal error. Trevizo, 871 F.3d
at 676. It is error for an ALJ to disregard and not address a
treating physician's opinion. Marsh v. Colvin,
792 F.3d 1170, 1172 (9th Cir. 2015).
treating doctor's opinion is contradicted by another
doctor's opinion, the ALJ may not reject the treating
doctor's opinion without “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). A treating doctor's
opinion will often be entitled to significant deference, even
when contradicted. Orn, 495 F.3d at 632-33. An ALJ
may not reject a treating doctor's opinion with
boilerplate assertions or illusory ...