United States District Court, D. Arizona
DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.
Plaintiff Lyle David Stotz 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 and supplemental security income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) 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, a 54-year-old male, has a General Equivalency Degree and previously worked as a mechanic and a correctional officer. In September 2011, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning August 23, 2011. On April 24, 2013, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On May 21, 2013, 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.
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).
III. The ALJ's Five-Step 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 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 found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 23, 2011. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bilateral knee osteoarthritis, right upper extremity tendonitis, chondromalacia patella,  and major depressive disorder. At step three, the ALJ determined 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:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can frequently perform operation of bilateral foot controls. The claimant should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and occasionally climb stairs, crouch, kneel, and crawl; the claimant can frequently balance and stoop. The claimant can reach overhead with right upper extremity frequently. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to non-weather related extreme temperatures of hot and cold; concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases; concentrated exposure to poorly ventilated areas. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to dangerous machinery with moving mechanical part[s], except motor vehicles and should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights. The claimant is limited to work that is simple, routine, and repetitive.
A.R. 33. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work. A.R. 43. At step five, the ALJ concluded 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 could perform. A.R. 44.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ's decision is defective for two reasons: (1) the ALJ improperly rejected the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physicians, and (2) the ALJ ...