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Baxter v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 11, 2016

Britt Baxter, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

ORDER

Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge

Plaintiff Britt Baxter 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 is affirmed.

I. Background

Baxter is a 54 year-old male with a twelfth grade education. (Doc. 15 at 3.) He previously worked as a welder. (A.R. 23.) He was born missing part of his bottom vertebra, which causes pain, and almost cut off his foot when he was 14 years old, which causes numbness and tingling in his foot. (Id. at 22.) Baxter applied for Social Security Disability Benefits on October 11, 2011, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2009. (Id. at 18.) On June 17, 2013, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (Id.) A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified. (Id.)

On July 30, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision that Baxter was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id. at 28.) The Appeals Council denied Baxter’s request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ’s decision the final agency decision. On January 19, 2015, Baxter 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).

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 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 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 Baxter 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 January 1, 2009. (A.R. 20.) At step two, the ALJ found that Baxter has the following severe impairments: spina bifida occulta, left foot neuropathy, and obesity. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Baxter 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 Baxter has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that the claimant can only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; must avoid exposure to extreme temperatures; and cannot be exposed to dangerous machinery.” (Id. at 22.) The ALJ further found that Baxter is unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (Id. at 26.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Baxter’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Id.)

IV. Analysis

Baxter argues the ALJ’s decision is unsupported by substantial evidence for three reasons: (1) the ALJ erred in formulating the RFC because it is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated Baxter’s credibility, and (3) the ALJ erred at Step Five because the vocational expert testimony on which she relied was elicited ...


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