Susan M. Schreffler, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Susan M. Schreffler seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), which denied her disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) 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
Schreffler was born in November 1962 and was thirty-five years old on the alleged disability onset date. She has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. She previously worked as a laborer and utility worker at a coal-fired power plant. She alleges both psychological and physical medical problems, including schizoaffective disorder, hypertension, diabetes, heart murmur, osteoporosis, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathy, and a disc protrusion at lumbar level L5-S1. Schreffler has had years of psychological treatment for substance abuse issues, which include use of alcohol and methamphetamine.
B. Procedural History
Schreffler applied for disability insurance benefits on February 27, 2008, and for supplemental security income on February 29, 2008, alleging disability beginning May 6, 1998. On June 7, 2011, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ.
On July 19, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision that Schreffler was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Schreffler's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. On March 13, 2013, Schreffler 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).
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 Schreffler meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2004, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 6, 1998. To obtain disability insurance benefits, Schreffler must prove disability before December 31, 2004. To obtain ...