Allen R. Mulkey, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Allen R. Mulkey seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), which denied him disability insurance benefits under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is supported by substantial evidence and is not based on legal error, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.
A. Factual Background
Mulkey was born in August 1966 and was 40 years old on September 28, 2006, the date his alleged disability began. He has been diagnosed with diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, obesity, edema, degenerative disc disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other medical conditions. He has a high school education and is able to communicate in English. His only past relevant work was as a SAP Basis Administrator, which involved managing computer software systems for large companies.
B. Procedural History
On November 9, 2009, Mulkey applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning September 28, 2006. On June 6, 2011, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.
On July 8, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision that Mulkey was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Mulkey's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. On December 14, 2012, Mulkey sought review by this Court.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The district court reviews only those issues raised by the party challenging the ALJ's 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, less than a preponderance, and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a whole. Id. In determining 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. As a general rule, "[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).
The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). In reviewing the ALJ's reasoning, the court is "not deprived of [its] faculties for drawing specific and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's opinion." Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989).
III. FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
To determine whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of the Social Security 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 at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
At the first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is 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. § 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. Pt. 404. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is automatically found to be disabled. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step four. At step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity and determines whether the claimant is still capable of performing past relevant work. § 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 he determines whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If so, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If not, the claimant is disabled. Id.
At step one, the ALJ found that Mulkey last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010, and that he did not engage in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of September 28, 2006, through his date last insured of December 31, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that Mulkey has the following severe impairments: diabetes neuropathy, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, hypertension, other cardiovascular disorders, brittle diabetes, hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, degenerative disc disease, edema, and psoriatic arthritis. At step three, the ALJ determined that Mulkey does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404.
At step four, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Mulkey:
had the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). The claimant could occasionally climb ramps or stairs; however, he was unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. He had to avoid all exposure to hazards like machinery or unprotected heights. He ...