United States District Court, D. Arizona
DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Amy Lou Finnegan Crews seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision finding her not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Doc. 14. For the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.
Plaintiff applied for disability and supplemental security insurance benefits on December 22, 2010, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2009. Doc. 15 at 2. After a hearing on August 2, 2012 (A.R. 26-50), an administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued an opinion on August 24, 2012, finding Plaintiff not disabled (A.R. 11-20). Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council and the ALJ's opinion became the Commissioner's final decision. Doc. 15 at 2.
II. Legal Standard.
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).
A. 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 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 determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 22, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of depressive disorder and methamphetamine abuse, in remission since June 2011. At step three, the ALJ found that the 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 has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels with non-exertional limitations including: her work should be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks due to limitations in her concentration, persistence, and pace; she should only have occasional interaction with the public; and her work should require only occasional changes in the work setting. At step five, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.
Plaintiff identifies three issues for review. First, she argues that the ALJ failed to give adequate weight to the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Amato. Doc. 14 at 5. Next, she argues that the ALJ "misinterprets facts" to her detriment. Id. at 6. Finally, she argues that the ALJ erred by rejecting Plaintiff's credibility without clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 7. The Court will consider each argument in turn.
A. Weighing of Medical ...