United States District Court, D. Arizona
STEVEN P. LOGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
issue is the denial of Plaintiff Sarah Kimbell's
Application for 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. 13, Pl. Br.), Defendant
Social Security Administration Commissioner's Response
Brief (Doc. 14, Def. Br.), and Plaintiff's Reply Brief
(Doc. 15, Reply). The Court has reviewed the briefs and
Administrative Record (Doc. 9, R.) and now affirms the
Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision (R. at 14-34)
as upheld by the Appeals Council (R. at 1-8).
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on
September 18, 2014 for a period of disability beginning on
March 11, 2010. (R. at 17.) Her claim was denied initially on
January 7, 2015, and upon reconsideration on April 7, 2015.
(R. at 17.) Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ for a hearing
regarding her claim. (R. at 17.) On November 24, 2017, the
ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim, and on September 26, 2018,
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request for Review
of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 1, 14.)
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 the following severe
impairments: migraines, fibromyalgia, asthma, carpal tunnel
syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome. (R. at 20.) The ALJ
also determined that Plaintiff has two nonsevere impairments:
anxiety and a cognitive disorder. (R. at 20.)
the ALJ evaluated the medical evidence and testimony and
concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. (R. at 26.) 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 22.) The ALJ
found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to “push, pull, lift and carry 20 pounds
occasionally and lift and carry 10 pounds frequently. She can
sit, stand and walk for six hours of an eight-hour day, and
can handle items frequently with her right hand. She is
limited to frequent right fingering, handling and gripping.
The claimant can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds, and she can never work at unprotected
heights, in dusts, odors, fumes and pulmonary irritants. She
must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperature
changes for either cold or heat.” (R. at 22.)
Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff can perform her
“past relevant work as a physician assistant, clinical
instructor, office manager, or a medical assistant.”
(R. at 26.)
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 residual functional
capacity (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.
(Pl. Br. at 1.) First Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
improperly found that Plaintiff's mental impairments are
nonsevere. (R. at 14.) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
improperly evaluated the opinions of (1) Dr. Gentry,
Plaintiff's treating physician, (2) Richard Randall,
P.T., and (3) Jeff Tucker, therapist. (Pl. Br. at 18-22.)
Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ presented an
incomplete hypothetical to the vocational expert. (Pl. Br. at
23.) The Court disagrees with each of Plaintiff's
The ALJ did not err by finding that Plaintiff's mental
impairments- anxiety and a cognitive
can find that an impairment or combination of impairments is
nonsevere only if it has “no more than a minimal effect
on an individual's ability to work.” Smolen v.
Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996). Only one
severe impairment is required for a claimant to survive the
step-two severe impairment analysis. Id. The ALJ
must consider all a claimant's medically determinable
impairments when calculating her RFC, regardless of whether
they are severe. Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523.
Consequently, an ALJ's errant failure to treat an
impairment as severe is typically harmless if the claimant
survives step-two and the ALJ considers all the
claimant's medical impairments, severe or otherwise.
See Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 682 (9th Cir.
2005). An ALJ's step-two determination will be upheld
when substantial evidence supports her finding that a
claimant's impairment is nonsevere. Webb v.
Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 687 (9th Cir. 2005).
are unique considerations when a claimant alleges that a
mental impairment is severe. The ALJ rates a claimant's
degree of functional limitation in four broad functional
areas to determine whether her mental impairments are severe.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c). The functional areas are: (1)
understand, remember, or apply information; (2) interact with
others; (3) concentrate, persist, or maintain pace; and (4)
adapt or manage oneself. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(3).
The ALJ rates the level of impairment on a five-point scale:
none, mild, moderate, marked, and extreme. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520a(c)(3). If the ALJ finds that the ...