United States District Court, D. Arizona
ALAN T. SHEEHAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
H. RUSSEL HOLLAND, District Judge.
This is an action for judicial review of the denial of disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Plaintiff has timely filed his opening brief,  to which defendant has responded. Oral argument was not requested and is not deemed necessary.
Plaintiff is Alan T. Sheehan. Defendant is Carolyn W. Colvin, acting Commissioner of Social Security.
On April 14, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging that he became disabled on January 4, 2010. Plaintiff alleged that he was disabled because of back surgery, severe chronic back pain, and bad knees. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing on January 4, 2012, an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied plaintiff's claim. On June 14, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's January 17, 2012 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On August 9, 2013, plaintiff commenced this action in which he asks the court to find that he is entitled to disability benefits.
General Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on September 2, 1959. Plaintiff was 52 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. Plaintiff is married and has a high school education. His past relevant work includes work as a project manager, general manager, estimator, and field superintendent.
The ALJ's Decision
The ALJ first determined that plaintiff met "the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014."
The ALJ then applied the five-step sequential analysis used to determine whether an individual is disabled.
At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had "not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 4, 2010, the alleged onset date...."
At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had "the following severe impairments: hypertension, low back pain, status post low back surgery x 2 in 1993 and 2000, [and] bilateral knee pain, post knee surgery x 4 between 1975 and 2008...."
At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, with special consideration given to sections 1.02 and 1.04 of the Listings...."
"Between steps three and four, the ALJ must, as an intermediate step, assess the claimant's RFC." Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin. , 554 F.3d 1219, 1222-23 (9th Cir. 2009). The ALJ found that plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a), with sitting up to 6 hours per 8-hour day, standing and walking up to 2 hours per 8-hour day, lifting up to 10 pounds occasionally, no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, the need to avoid concentrated exposure to hazardous heights and moving machinery, the need for frequent changes in position, and no repetitive bending or twisting at the waist.
The ALJ found that plaintiff was "generally credible" but found his credibility "weaken[ed]" due to his receipt of unemployment insurance benefits "because receipt of such benefits is commensurate with the understanding that the claimant is able-bodied and actively looking for work...." The ALJ also noted that plaintiff had "submitted up to 16 job applications since his alleged onset date, " which "implies he feels he could do some sort of work activity[.]" The ALJ also found plaintiff less than credible because he was taking only ibuprofen yet complained that his back pain was 7/10 and because he reported that his back pain and left lower radicular symptoms were better since starting physical therapy. The ALJ found plaintiff less than credible because Dr. Merkel's ...