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Stewart v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 7, 2014

Christopher Stewart, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Stewart seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), which denied his request for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. For the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND.

A. Factual Background.

Plaintiff testified at his hearing that he was 46 years old. A.R. 15. Plaintiff also testified that he had a tenth grade education and had received some vocational training in refrigerator repair. Id. Plaintiff has worked in the past as a construction and fast food laborer. Doc. 13 at 2. His last full-time position was fast food cashier. A.R. 15. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; cervical spondylosis; cervical and lumbar foraminal stenosis; obesity; and mild degenerative joint disease of both hands. A.R. 13. The ALJ also found that the impairments precluded Plaintiff from performing past relevant work. A.R. 17.

B. Procedural History.

On February 2, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. A.R. 11. On February 16, 2010, he also filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. Id. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on December 1, 1990. Id. The claims were denied initially on May 17, 2010, and upon reconsideration on August 2, 2010. Id. Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on August 9, 2010. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.929 et seq., 416.1429 et seq. Id. On January 10, 2012, he appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A.R. 11. A vocational expert also testified. Id.

On February 8, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. A.R. 19. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision final. A.R. 1.

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). 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.

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, with the burden shifting 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 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 Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 1994, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 1990. A.R. 13. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; cervical spondylosis; cervical and lumbar foraminal stenosis; obesity; and mild degenerative joint disease of both hands. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an ...


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