United States District Court, D. Arizona
DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Cindy Lynette Chapman seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision finding her not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Doc. 13. For the reasons that follow, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.
Plaintiff applied for disability and supplemental security insurance benefits on July 29, 2009, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2008. Doc. 13 at 1. After a hearing on March 7, 2011, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued an opinion finding Plaintiff not disabled (A.R. 35-43). 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 ("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 determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2008. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of pneumothorax, asthma, chronic fatigue, and obesity. At step three, the ALJ found 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 has the RFC to perform less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). At step five, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.
The only issue for review asserted at the outset of Plaintiff's brief is that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Doc. 15 at 1. The Court, however, is only required to review those issues raised by the parties, s ee Lewis, 236 F.3d at 517 n.13, and simply asserting that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence does not constitute raising a specific issue for review. Plaintiff does raise specific issues later in her brief. She argues that the ALJ erred in her determination about Plaintiff's credibility. Doc. 13 at 5. Although not clear from her brief, Plaintiff appears to argue that the ALJ erred in her assessment of the opinion of Dr. Angulo, a state-agency examining physician. Doc. 13 at 8. She further argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment is "not accurate, nor lawful[.]" Id. at 12. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by not relying on testimony of the vocational expert that testified in this case. Id. at 13. The Court will consider each argument in turn.
A. Plaintiff's Credibility.
In evaluating the credibility of a claimant's testimony regarding subjective pain or other symptoms, the ALJ is required to engage in a two-step analysis: (1) determine whether the claimant presented objective medical evidence of an impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce some degree of the pain or other symptoms alleged; and, if there is no evidence of malingering, (2) reject the claimant's testimony about the severity of the symptoms only by ...