United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable Steven P. Logan United States District Judge
issue is the denial of Plaintiff Angela Odell's
Applications for Supplemental Security Income Benefits and
Disability Insurance Benefits by the Social Security
Administration under the Social Security 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. Br.), Defendant Social Security
Administration Commissioner's Response Brief (Doc. 13,
Def. Br.), and Plaintiff's Reply Brief (Doc. 14, Reply).
The Court has reviewed the briefs and Administrative Record
(Doc. 10, R.) and now reverses the Administrative Law
Judge's (ALJ) decision (R. at 39-56) as upheld by the
Appeals Council (R. at 1-6).
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on
December 18, 2014 for a period of disability beginning on
March 18, 2012. (R. at 42.) On the same day, Plaintiff also
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income
Benefits, alleging the same disability onset date. (R. at
42.) Her claims were denied initially on June 19, 2015, and
upon reconsideration on December 17, 2015. (R. at 42.) On
July 24, 2017, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ for a video
hearing regarding her claims. (R. at 42.) On November 15,
2017, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims, and on August
17, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request
for Review of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 42.)
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. Upon considering the
medical records and opinions, the ALJ evaluated
Plaintiff's disability based on two severe impairments-
degenerative disc disease and left shoulder dysfunction
status post arthroplasty. (R. at 45.)
the ALJ evaluated the medical evidence and testimony and
concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. (R. at 49.) 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, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (R. at 45.) The ALJ
found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform “light
work, ” except that she would have several limitations.
(R. at 46.) He found that Plaintiff can carry twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently. (R. at 46.) She can
sit, stand, or walk for six hours per eight-hour workday. (R.
at 46.) Plaintiff can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. (R. at 46.) She can crawl and frequently climb
ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch. (R. at
46.) She can occasionally reach overhead. (R. at 46.)
Finally, she cannot have concentrated exposure to vibration,
moving machinery, or unprotected heights. (R. at 46.)
Consequently, the ALJ found that she “can perform her
past relevant work as a Retail Manager, as generally
performed in the national economy.” (R. at 48.)
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. Generally, “[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.
raises three arguments for the Court's consideration.
(Pl. Br. at 1.) First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by
giving reduced weight to the opinion of Dr. Ernest Mar,
Plaintiff's treating physician. (Pl. Br. at 14.) Second,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly rejected her symptom
testimony. (Pl. Br. at 20.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that
the ALJ erred by improperly relying on vocational expert
testimony in supporting his decision. (Pl. Br. at 23.)
Because the Court agrees with Plaintiff's first two
arguments, the third argument is superfluous.
The ALJ erred by giving reduced weight to Dr. Mar's
completed Disability Impairment Questionnaires on behalf of
Plaintiff on March 27, 2015 and January 19, 2016. (R. at 300,
586.) Dr. Mar based his opinions on his treatment of
Plaintiff between November 2013 and January 2016. (R. at
582.) He diagnosed Plaintiff with cervical degenerative disc
disease, displaced lumbar intervertebrate disc disease,
lumbar degenerative disc disease, left rotator cuff tear,
fibromyalgia, and generalized anxiety disorder. (R. at 582.)
opined that Plaintiff had a variety of limitations due to her
impairments. (R. at 582-86.) He found that Plaintiff's
symptoms included constant neck, left-shoulder, elbow,
bilateral hand, joint, and hip pain. (R. at 583.) He also
noted joint swelling and stiffness. (R. at 583.) He found
that her pain was aggravated with stress, anxiety, increased
ranges of motion, lifting, walking, sitting, and standing.
(R. at 583.) Because of these symptoms, he found that
Plaintiff would be limited to sitting for only two hours per
workday, and standing or walking for two hours per workday.
(R. at 584.) He also found that it would be medically
necessary for Plaintiff to avoid continuous sitting for an
entire workday, to elevate her legs while sitting, and to
frequently alternate between sitting and moving around. (R.
at 584.) Finally, he opined that Plaintiff has ...