United States District Court, D. Arizona
NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Miroslaw Sikora 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.
Plaintiff was born in January 1961. In 1984 he obtained a J.D. degree in Poland, and in 2001 he obtained a B.A. degree in business administration from National Louis University in Chicago. He worked as a prosecuting attorney in Poland. After he moved to the United States, Plaintiff worked in merchandising and shipping/receiving. Plaintiff's last full-time job was as a textbook manager at a college bookstore. In October 2008, Plaintiff completed his training as a textbook manager, but there was no job for him in Phoenix, and he was not able to relocate. He received unemployment compensation until October 2009.
On October 2, 2009, Plaintiff was hospitalized for fever and acute breathing difficulty, caused by flu and pneumonia. He remained hospitalized through December 16, 2009, with a tracheostomy and ventilator for respiration and a gastrointestinal tube for nourishment. He was transferred to a skilled nursing facility, where he remained until January 16, 2010. After discharge from the skilled nursing facility, he used a walker until the end of 2010. He reports continued fatigue and difficulty breathing, standing, and walking.
On January 25, 2010, shortly after discharge from the skilled nursing facility, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning October 2, 2009. On November 14, 2011, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified.
On December 19, 2009, 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 October 15, 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, where he determines whether the claimant can perform any other work based on the claimant's residual functional capacity, 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 found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2014, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 2, 2009, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: status post H1N1-induced respiratory failure, status post tracheostomy, diabetes mellitus type II, hypertension, and shortness of breath. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an ...