United States District Court, D. Arizona
Patrick D. Bailey, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MICHELLE H. BURNS, Magistrate Judge.
Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Patrick D. Bailey's appeal from the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny his claim for disability insurance benefits. After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on November 6, 2009, under protective filing date of August 25, 2009, alleging disability beginning October 24, 2006. (Transcript of Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 24, 157-63.) His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. at 98-112, 117-19.) Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Tr. at 120-21.) A hearing was held on November 16, 2011, (Tr. at 54-97), and the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. at 21-37). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. at 1-7), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court must affirm the ALJ's findings if the findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from reversible legal error. See Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Marcia v. Sullivan , 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" and "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720.
In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the Court considers the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. See Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720. "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); see Magallanes v. Bowen , 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the [Commissioner's] conclusion, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720-21.
III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
In order to be eligible for disability or social security benefits, a claimant must demonstrate 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). An ALJ determines a claimant's eligibility for benefits by following a five-step sequential evaluation:
(1) determine whether the applicant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity";
(2) determine whether the applicant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments;
(3) determine whether the applicant's impairment equals one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges as so severe as to preclude the applicant from engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(4) if the applicant's impairment does not equal one of the listed impairments, determine whether the applicant is capable of performing his or her past relevant work;
(5) if the applicant is not capable of performing his or her past relevant work, determine whether the applicant is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience.
See Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920). At the fifth stage, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful work. See Penny v. Sullivan , 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993).
At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 24, 2006 - the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 26.) At step two, he found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, asthma, low back pain, sleep apnea, and post-gastric bypass surgery. (Tr. at 26.) At step three, the ALJ stated that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. at 26.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained "the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except that the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps or stairs and occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl. The claimant can frequently handle and frequently finger with the right upper extremity. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts and gases and moving machinery and unprotected heights." (Tr. at 26-31.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work, but that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Tr. at 31-32.)
Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff "has not been under a disability... from October 24, 2006, through the date of [his] decision." (Tr. at 32-33.)
In his brief, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to properly weigh medical source opinion evidence; (2) failing to properly consider his subjective complaints; and (3) failing to accurately pose all of Plaintiff's limitations in the hypothetical to the vocational ...