United States District Court, D. Arizona
Joshua L. Hart, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant
Joshua L Hart, Plaintiff: Eric Glenn Slepian, LEAD ATTORNEY,
Slepian Law Office, Phoenix, AZ.
Carolyn W Colvin, named as: Carolyn Colvin-Acting
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Michael A Johns,
LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Phoenix, AZ; Sarah
Elizabeth Moum, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security
Administration, Seattle, WA.
G. Campbell, Unites States District Judge.
Joshua L. Hart seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security,
which denied him disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under sections 216(i) and 223(d)
of the Social Security Act. Because the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) is not supported
by substantial evidence and is based on legal error, the
Commissioner's decision will be vacated and the matter
remanded for an award of benefits.
a 36-year-old male, has a high school diploma and previously
worked as a paratrooper, a process technician, and a
television repairman. On December 19, 2012, Plaintiff applied
for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability
beginning January 13, 2010. On December 4, 2013, he appeared
with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ.
A vocational expert also testified. On January 15, 2014, 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.
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. (quotation marks
and citation omitted). 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) (citation
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation
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, and the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999).
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 ¶ 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.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2017, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 13, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: lumbar
degenerative disc disease, post laminectomy syndrome,
obesity, and status-post spinal cord stimulator implant. 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 ¶ 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 [C.F.R. § ] 404.1567(b)
except he could frequently climb ramps or stairs and stoop,
occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds, balance,
crouch, kneel and crawl. He should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold, excessive noise, vibration, fumes,
odors, dusts and gas, hazardous machinery and unprotected
further found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his
past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that,
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.
argues the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly weighing medical
opinion evidence, (2) improperly evaluating Plaintiff's
credibility, (3) failing to account for-3-Plaintiff's
obesity in the RFC determination,
and (4) improperly evaluating third party witness evidence.
The ALJ Improperly Weighed Medical ...