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Matthewson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 22, 2015

Allen R. Matthewson, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

ORDER

Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff Allen R. Matthewson, [1] which challenges the Social Security Administration’s decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 21.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms that decision.

BACKGROUND

On January 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2012. (Tr. 120-26.) After Plaintiff’s claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, he requested a hearing, which the ALJ, Mason D. Harrell, Jr., held on August 7, 2013. (Tr. 36.) On August 30, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 21-28.)

In evaluating whether Plaintiff was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[2] (Id.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2012, the alleged onset date.” (Tr. 23.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of “degenerative joint and disc disease, lumbar spine, status post-operative times three, with post laminectomy syndrome, left nondominant shoulder separation with multiple surgical repairs, and degenerative joint and disc disease, cervical spine.” (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration’s listed impairments. (Tr. 24.)

At that point, the ALJ made a determination of Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”), [3] concluding that Plaintiff could

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) except stand or walk thirty minutes at a time for a total between two to four hours in an eight-hour workday, sit one hour at a time for a total of six hours in an eight-hour work-day, push or pull ten pounds maximum, only occasional reaching above shoulder level with the nondominant left upper extremity, no exposure to dangerous machinery and perform routine, repetitive tasks due to medication side effects, and miss work once a month.

(Tr. 24.) The ALJ thus determined at step four that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a union painter. (Tr. 26.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy despite his limitations. (Tr. 27.) Given this analysis, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.)

The Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-6.) Plaintiff filed the complaint underlying this action on October 21, 2014, seeking this Court’s review of the ALJ’s denial of benefits.[4] (Doc. 1.) The matter is now fully briefed before this Court. (Doc. 21, 22.)

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

A reviewing federal court will only address the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ’s decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). “Substantial” evidence amounts to “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

II. Analysis

Plaintiff’s sole argument is that the ALJ erred by relying on the testimony of the vocational expert without resolving a purported inconsistency between the jobs the vocational expert testified that a person could perform with Plaintiff’s limitations and the descriptions of those jobs in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). (Doc. 21 at 7-8.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff can perform sedentary work, subject to certain additional limitations, one of which was “only occasional reaching above shoulder level with the nondominant left upper extremity.” (Tr. 24.) At the hearing, the ALJ questioned the vocational expert about jobs a person could perform with the Plaintiff’s characteristics and limitations. (Tr. 27, 56-58.) The vocational expert testified that such a person could work as an assembler or a table worker. (Id.) The ALJ asked the vocational expert whether his testimony was consistent with the DOT, and the vocational expert testified, “Yes, Your Honor, with the exception [of] sitting and standing for one hour. For example, sitting and then standing and walking 30 minutes, I do not believe that’s specifically addressed in the DOT code, but my response is based on my education and experience in this field.” (Tr. 58). The ALJ “determined that the vocational expert’s testimony is consistent with the information contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT)” and concluded that Plaintiff is capable of performing such work and is thus not disabled. (Id.) ...


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