United States District Court, D. Arizona
Deborha D. Childers, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.
DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.
Plaintiff Deborha Childers 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.
Plaintiff was born in September 1950. She testified at her hearing that she has a B.A. in Business Administration and worked in the past as a controller for a car dealership. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from several severe impairments. A.R. 15. The ALJ also found that the impairments were severe and will continue to cause more than minimal work-related functional limitations. A.R. 15.
B. Procedural History.
On August 6, 2009, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning July 1, 2007. The claim was denied initially on September 29, 2009, and upon reconsideration on March 25, 2010. Thereafter, the claimant filed a written request for a hearing on May 13, 2010. 20 C.F.R. 404.929 et seq. On November 2, 2011, she appeared with her attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.
On November 30, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.
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. "Where 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, 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 ("RFC") 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 RFC, 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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2007. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome; osteoporosis; osteoarthritis; migraine headaches; balance problems; neck pain radiating to left shoulder; irritable bowel syndrome; status post cataract surgery (2008); and status post cervical cryosurgery (2010). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff 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 Plaintiff:
Ha[d] the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except for the following limitations: the claimant is capable of occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, crawling, and kneeling; but is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, and/or scaffolds. The claimant is to avoid concentrated exposure to the use of moving machinery and to unprotected heights.
A.R. 17-18. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a controller because it does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by her RFC. ...