United States District Court, D. Arizona
Thomas F. McBride, Jr., Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
STEVEN P. LOGAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Thomas F. McBride, Jr., seeks judicial review and reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying his application for Social Security disability benefits.
On September 6, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (AR 35, 143-46.) Plaintiff alleged that he became unable to work on December 30, 2008 due to his disabling conditions of depression, neuropathy, diabetes, vision and hearing problems, spina bifida, learning disabilities, and asthma. (AR 90, 143.) On March 9, 2010, the SSA denied Plaintiff's application (AR 90-93), and on August 13, 2010, the SSA denied Plaintiff's request for reconsideration (AR 98-100). Pursuant to Plaintiff's request (AR 101-102), a hearing was held on January 27, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Thomas Cheffins (AR 35-75). On February 10, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision ruling that Plaintiff is not disabled and is not entitled to disability benefits. (AR 18-28.) On May 6, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, and the decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of the SSA. (AR 1-6.)
Having exhausted the administrative review process, on July 1, 2013, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision by filing a Complaint in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1.) On February 21, 2014, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief, seeking remand to the ALJ for an award of disability benefits for the period of December 30, 2008 through February 10, 2012. (Doc. 13 at 21-24.) On March 24, 2014, Defendant filed a Response (Doc. 14), and on April 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Reply (Doc. 15).
II. Legal Standards
To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, a claimant must show an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a); see also Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
A five-step procedure is used to determine whether an applicant is eligible for disability insurance benefits:
In step one, the Secretary determines whether a claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If so, the claimant is not disabled. In step two, the Secretary determines whether the claimant has a "medically severe impairment or combination of impairments, " as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the answer is no, the claimant is not disabled. If the answer is yes, the Secretary proceeds to step three and determines whether the impairment meets or equals a "listed" impairment that the Secretary has acknowledged to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. If this requirement is met, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled; if not, the Secretary proceeds to step four. At step four, the Secretary determines whether the claimant can perform "past relevant work." If the claimant can perform such work, [he] is not disabled. If the claimant meets the burden of establishing an inability to perform prior work, the Secretary must show, at step five, that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy.
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 416.920).
In reviewing the decision of the ALJ, the Court must affirm the ALJ's decision unless it contains legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; "it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. In determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Court considers the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720; Tylitzki v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993). The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts, ambiguity, and determining credibility. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). Where "the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing a decision, [the Court] may not substitute its judgment for that of [the ALJ]." Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1039. "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630 (internal quotations and citations omitted). The Court reviews "only the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Id.
Applying the five-step sequential framework, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff is not disabled and is not entitled to disability benefits. (AR 21-28.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 30, 2008, his alleged disability onset date. (AR 20.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: neuropathy in his feet and arms; diabetes mellitus; hearing and vision problems; learning disability; asthma; and spina bifida. (AR 20.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments described in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 21-22.)
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), with some limitations. (AR 22.) Based on his residual functional capacity finding and the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could no longer perform his past work. At step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could, however, perform other jobs in the national economy such as grocery bagger, warehouse worker, ...