United States District Court, D. Arizona
STEVEN P. LOGAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff David William Perkins 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 January 31, 2010, and February 1, 2010, Plaintiff filed applications for Social Security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (AR 198-99, 202-08.) Plaintiff alleges that on January 22, 2010, he became unable to work due to his disabling condition. (AR 198.) On March 11, 2010, the SSA denied Plaintiff's application (AR 135-42), and on August 6, 2010, the SSA denied Plaintiff's request for reconsideration (AR 144-46). Pursuant to Plaintiff's request (AR 152-53), a hearing was held on January 17, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Earl C. Cates, Jr. (AR 44-88).
Applying the five-step sequential framework,  on February 1, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision ruling that Plaintiff is not disabled and is not entitled to disability benefits. (AR 22-35.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 22, 2010, his alleged disability onset date. (AR 24.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: ischemic heart disease, coronary artery disease status post three stents, obesity, and tobacco addiction. ( Id. ) He further found the following impairments were non-severe: myopic astigmatism, diabetes, cataract, sleep apnea, orthopedic pain, depression, and anxiety. (AR 24-27.) 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 28.)
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to lift twenty-five pounds occasionally with his left hand; lift twenty-five pounds occasionally with his right hand; lift fifty pounds occasionally on an infrequent basis; sit for an hour at one time for a total of six out of eight hours in an eight-hour workday; stand for thirty minutes at a time; walk for one hundred yards at a time; stand and walk for a total of four hours in an eight hour day; and should avoid bending, twisting, and stooping. (AR 28.) Based on Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that he could perform his past work as a customer order clerk, and could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 33-35.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. (AR 35.)
On July 18, 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 1-4.) Having exhausted the administrative review process, on September 17, 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.)
II. Standard of Review
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.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed and the case be remanded for benefits because the ALJ improperly discounted the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physicians, and improperly discredited Plaintiff's symptom testimony. (Doc. 11.) In response, Defendant contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of legal error. (Doc. 12.)
A. Medical Opinion Evidence
"The ALJ must consider all medical opinion evidence." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c); SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183, at *2 (July 2, 1996). In doing so, an ALJ should afford the most weight to the treating physician's opinion, a lesser amount of weight to an examining physician's opinion, and an even lesser amount to a physician who has neither treated nor examined the claimant. See Orn, 495 F.3d at 63. Where a treating physician's opinion is not contradicted by another physician, it may be rejected only for "clear and convincing" reasons, and where it is contradicted, it may not be rejected without "specific and legitimate reasons" supported by substantial evidence in the record. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995); Orn, 495 F.3d at 632. As with a treating physician, there must be clear and convincing reasons for rejecting the uncontradicted opinion of an examining physician, and specific and legitimate reasons, supported by substantial evidence in the record, for rejecting an examining ...