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Blansette v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 25, 2016

Brad Blansette, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

NEIL V. WAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff Brad Blansette 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 under sections 216(i) and 223(d) 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.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born in November 1963. He completed two years of college, earning an associate’s degree in electrical engineering technology. Plaintiff was self-employed from 1997 to 2004 and sold computer equipment. After that, he performed telemarketing and a few part-time jobs. In 2006, he suffered a brain injury in a motorcycle accident. Plaintiff worked as a sales associate at a RadioShack store from December 2008 through July 2010, when the store closed and Plaintiff was not relocated to another store. Plaintiff experiences chronic headaches, left foot and ankle pain, fatigue, and insomnia.

B. Procedural History

On July 13, 2011, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, [1] alleging disability beginning June 26, 2006. On July 16, 2013, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. During the hearing and through counsel, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to July 27, 2010.

On August 16, 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. On April 9, 2015, Plaintiff 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); accord Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012) (“Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ’s findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.”).

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 the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. 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 Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2013, and that he did not engage in substantial gainful activity from July 27, 2010, through June 30, 2013. At step two, the ALJ found that through the date last insured Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: post-concussion syndrome with headaches, status post motor vehicle accident in 2006; adjustment disorder, NOS; personality disorder NOS; cervical degenerative disc disease; and left lower extremity injury with pes planus (“flat foot”). At step three, the ALJ determined that through the date last insured Plaintiff ...


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