United States District Court, E.D. California
DEBORAH L. PIPER, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER ON SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL
has requested judicial review of the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA”) denial of his
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. At a hearing on October 22, 2019, I heard
argument from the parties. Having considered the arguments
made at the hearing, and having reviewed the record,
administrative transcript, briefs of the parties, and
applicable law, I affirm the decision of the SSA's
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
appeal, I ask only whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's factual findings and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). I will uphold the ALJ's decision if it is
rational, even if there is another rational interpretation of
the evidence; I may not substitute my judgment for that of
the Commissioner. Id.
seeks remand, arguing that the ALJ erred at step two of the
five-step disability-determination process in finding that
her alleged transverse myelitis-an “inflammation of
both sides of one section of the spinal cord, ” ECF No.
15 at 8-was not a medically determinable
impairment. I see no error, even though the step-two
inquiry has been described as a “screening device to
dispose of groundless claims.” Edlund v.
Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1158 (9th Cir. 2001), as
amended on reh'g (Aug. 9, 2001) (internal citations
and quotation marks omitted). The ALJ considered
claimant's allegations that she suffers from transverse
myelitis, but ultimately concluded that the diagnosis was
unconfirmed. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ gave
“great weight” to the opinion of Dr. Nossa W.
Maya, whose views the ALJ found to be “well-supported
by the objective medical evidence.” AR 27. The ALJ
cited Dr. Maya's opinion that “claimant's
alleged diagnosis of transverse myelitis was not an
individual diagnosis but [was] incorporated in the diagnosis
[of] sacroiliitis.” Id. Although other doctors
diagnosed transverse myelitis as a standalone condition, I
see no error in the ALJ's apparent acceptance of Dr.
Maya's approach, since Dr. Maya appears to have found the
condition that other doctors called transverse myelitis to be
subsumed in another diagnosis.
the ALJ erred in not recognizing claimant's alleged
transverse myelitis as an independent medically determinable
impairment, any such error would be harmless. See Lewis
v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 909, 911 (9th Cir. 2007) (finding
harmless error where the ALJ (1) erred in not recognizing
bursitis as a severe impairment at step two but (2)
considered the limitations imposed by bursitis at step four).
As is suggested by the ALJ's summary of Dr. Maya's
views-quoted above-the ALJ carried forward in her analysis
the functional limitations alleged by claimant to be
associated with transverse myelitis, including limitations
associated with balance, coordination, and the need for
bathroom access. Indeed, the ALJ went beyond the limitations
that would have been directly supported by Dr. Maya's
findings: Dr. Maya recognized no “diagnostic tests or
confirmed diagnosis” supporting functional capacity
limits associated with claimant's balance and
coordination, and identified no support for claimant's
alleged need for rapid bathroom access-yet the ALJ included
in her residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
determination limits on exposure to uneven ground,
unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery; and recognized
claimant's need for “ready access to the
bathroom.” AR 27, 22. Claimant's brief does not
argue otherwise; it is confined to challenging the ALJ's
analysis at step two.
the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence
and claimant has identified no reversible error in the
ALJ's analysis. For the reasons stated in this order and
on the record at oral argument, I deny claimant's appeal
from the administrative decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security. The clerk of court is directed (1) to enter
judgment in favor of defendant and against claimant Deborah
L. Piper and (2) to close this case.
 See AR 15 (“After
careful consideration of all of the evidence, the undersigned
concludes the claimant has not been under a disability within
the meaning of the Social Security Act from December 3, 2012,
through the date of this decision.”).
 The regulations provide for SSA to
determine first whether a claimant has an impairment and
subsequently to evaluate whether that impairment is
“severe.” See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521.
Claimant focuses on the first part of the inquiry-SSA's
determination of the existence of an impairment. The