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Putnam v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 19, 2014

Eric Putnam, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendants.

ORDER

JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal from the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") denial of Plaintiff's Title II application for a period of Disability Insurance Benefits and Plaintiff's Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income based on disability.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Eric Putnam applied for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on April 2, 2008. (Administrative Record Transcript ("TR") at 17). Plaintiff also protectively applied for Supplemental Security Income on April 2, 2008. Id. The Commissioner denied benefits on July 25, 2008. (TR 79-82). Plaintiff requested reconsideration on August 13, 2008 (TR 83-84), but was again denied on November 4, 2008 (TR 86-88). On November 21, 2008, Plaintiff requested a hearing by the ALJ. (TR 93).

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 23, 2010, finding that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (TR 14-32). Plaintiff then appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council which denied review on January 11, 2012. (TR 1-3). Plaintiff subsequently filed an appeal with this Court.

Plaintiff argues that the Court should vacate the ALJ's decision because the ALJ erred by: (1) failing properly to assess the opinions of the examining physician, Dr. Palmer (Doc. 26 at 3); (2) rejecting Plaintiff's subjective complaints ( id. at 5); (3) failing to review Mr. Moore's lay witness evidence ( id. at 6); and (4) relying on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to determine that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. ( Id. at 20).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The Commissioner's decision to deny benefits will be overturned "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (internal quotation omitted). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id.

In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support a decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Id. "Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which must be upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence." Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citations omitted). If there is sufficient evidence to support the Commissioner's determination, the Court cannot substitute its own determination. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-21. Additionally, the ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court must affirm it. See Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

A. Definition of Disability

To qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must show, among other things, that he is "under a disability." 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." Id. § 423(d)(1)(A). A person is

under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.

Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

B. Five-Step Evaluation Process

The Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential process for evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see also Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (describing the sequential process). A finding of "not disabled" at any step in the sequential process will end the ALJ's inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proof at ...


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