United States District Court, D. Arizona
NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Donald Lee Dover 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
Plaintiff was born in November 1957 and was 52 years old on the alleged disability onset date, June 1, 2010. He previously worked as a computer repair technician, user support/help desk technician, and inventory manager. His last job was a temporary position that ended. In February 2011, Plaintiff reported that he spends his day watching television, using the computer, going to necessary appointments, eating, and sleeping. He is able to dress, bathe, shave, care for his hair, wash dishes, and do his laundry. He feeds his dogs and gives them water. He prepares his meals by microwaving foods or eating cereal. He drives a car and goes outside one or two times a week; every other week he shops for groceries. He spends time with other people daily. He said most of his activities are limited by his pain and he has difficulty remembering things and completing tasks.
Plaintiff alleges impairment from diabetic neuropathy, neurogenic bladder, degenerative disc disease of the spine, continuing problems after bilateral carpel tunnel surgeries, sleep apnea, and depression. Although Plaintiff expressly does not allege "totally debilitating symptoms, " he testified that he is unable to work a full-time job because he cannot stay awake during the day and cannot sleep at night because of frequent urination and leg cramps.
B. Procedural History
On June 25, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2010. On July 9, 2012, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.
On August 20, 2012, 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 of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. On March 4, 2013, Plaintiff 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).
Harmless error principles apply in the Social Security Act context. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012). An error is harmless if there remains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision and the error does not affect the ultimate nondisability determination. Id. The claimant usually bears the burden of showing that an error is harmful. Id. at 1111.
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 the burden shifts 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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2013, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, status post surgery; status post left shoulder surgery; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with moderate stenosis; obesity; hypertension; diabetes mellitus; status post right wrist fracture; obstructive sleep apnea; history of neurogenic bladder; and history of syncope. At step three, the ALJ determined that ...