United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable Michelle H. Bums United States Magistrate Judge.
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).
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.)
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.)
the ALJ found that Plaintiff can perform her past relevant
work as a collection clerk and a credit collection manager.
(R. at 28.)
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 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
The ALJ did not err by giving no weight to 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 ...