United States District Court, D. Arizona
Scott L. Bolzan, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Scott L. Bolzan seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), which denied him disability insurance benefits under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is supported by substantial evidence and is not based on legal error, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born in July 1962. He graduated from college in 1984 and completed flight training in 1994. He worked as an owner of an aviation management and aircraft charter business, professional football player, commercial pilot, mortgage broker, and automobile salesman. In December 2008, Plaintiff slipped, fell, and hit his head. He sustained a cut on his head and reported headache and retrograde amnesia following the incident. He subsequently reported persisting headaches and continued difficulty remembering events that occurred before the December 2008 fall. Beginning in July 2010, Plaintiff began experiencing seizure-like events, some of which led to falling and sustaining additional injuries. Plaintiff quit driving after July 2010.
Plaintiff co-authored a book with his wife and a writer about his life after the December 2008 head injury. In 2011, Plaintiff and his wife were paid an advance of $85, 000 from which they paid $65, 000 to the agent and writer. Plaintiff and his wife also participated in a book tour, speaking engagements, and television appearances for which they were compensated. Plaintiff also participated in charitable activities related to the National Football League. In January 2012, Plaintiff testified that when he did not have a headache, he was able help with housework, prepare food, watch television, use the Internet to learn how to do household maintenance and repairs, perform personal care, and manage finances. He can read, write, and use a computer.
B. Procedural History
On May 16, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning December 17, 2008. On January 11, 2012, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Plaintiff's wife and a vocational expert also testified. On April 16, 2012, Plaintiff again appeared with his attorney and testified at a supplemental hearing before the ALJ. Plaintiff's wife and a different vocational expert also testified at the supplemental hearing.
On May 2, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. On May 20, 2013, Plaintiff sought review by this Court.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
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); accord Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012) ("Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.").
III. FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
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 the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. 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, ...