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Younger v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 6, 2020

Rebecca Lou Younger, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable Michelle H. Bums United States Magistrate Judge.

         At issue is the denial of Plaintiff Rebecca Younger's Application for Disability Insurance Benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA) 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. 18, Pl. Br.), Defendant Social Security Administration Commissioner's Response Brief (Doc. 23, Def. Br.), and Plaintiff's Reply Brief (Doc. 25, Reply). The Court has reviewed the briefs and Administrative Record (Doc. 16, R.) and now affirms the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision (R. at 17-34) as upheld by the Appeals Council (R. at 1-6).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on August 7, 2014 for a period of disability beginning on October 1, 2013. (R. at 20.) SSA initially denied the claim on April 1, 2015, and on reconsideration on July 20, 2015. (R. at 20.) On April 18, 2017, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ for a hearing on her claim. (R. at 20.) On September 13, 2017, the ALJ denied her claim. (R. at 29.) When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request for Review of the ALJ's decision on July 23, 2018, the ALJ's decision became final. (R. at 20.) 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. Upon considering the medical evidence and opinions, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's disability based on the following severe impairments: idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, unspecified poly-arthropathy, mild degenerative changes of the right wrist and left foot, and history of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. (R. at 22.) The ALJ found Plaintiff has no severe mental impairments. (R. at 24.)

         Ultimately, the ALJ evaluated the medical evidence and testimony and concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. (R. at 29.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff “d[oes] not have an impairment or combination of impairments that me[ets] or medically equal[s] the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (R. at 24.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has

“the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a), consisting of lifting and carrying no more than ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently. [Plaintiff is] able to sit for at least six hours in an eight-hour workday and stand or walk for up to two hours in an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff is] limited to occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs, but should not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Plaintiff can] handle, finger; and feel frequently bilaterally. She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness, humidity, unprotected heights, and moving dangerous machinery.” (R. at 25.)

         Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work as a collection clerk and a credit collection manager. (R. at 28.)

         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. 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 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 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.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff raises three arguments for the Court's consideration. (Pl. Br. at 1.) First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by improperly rejecting her treating physician's opinion. (Pl. Br. at 1.) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to include any mental limitations in calculating Plaintiff's RFC. (Pl. Br. at 1.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that her case was adjudicated by an unconstitutionally appointed ALJ. (Pl. Br. at 1.) The Court rejects each of Plaintiff's arguments.

         A. The ALJ did not err by giving no weight to Dr. O'Regan's opinion.

         Dr. O'Regan was Plaintiff's treating primary care physician. (R. at 27.) Based on his treatment of Plaintiff, Dr. O'Regan completed a medical source physical assessment on Plaintiffs behalf. (R. at 384-85.) Based on a single diagnosis of diabetes mellitus type 1 for 35 years, Dr. O'Regan opined to various functional limitations that affect Plaintiff. He opined that Plaintiff's symptoms are frequently severe enough to interfere with her attention and concentration, and that Plaintiff would need to recline or lie down during a workday more than scheduled breaks allow. (R. at 384.) He also opined to various limitations in Plaintiff's extremities including: (1) sitting for only two hours per day, (2) standing or walking for only one hour per day, and (3) limitations in repeated ...


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