United States District Court, D. Arizona
NEIL V. WAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Plaintiff Twyna Lejean Oliver seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied her supplemental security income under section 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 was born in November 1963. On her application for supplemental security income, she reported that her ability to work was limited by back pain, high blood pressure, poor vision in both eyes, and depression. She speaks English and completed two years of college. She worked as a union representative 1991-2003 and as a home care provider from September 2006 to February 2007. In this appeal, Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by failing to find she has a severe mental impairment.
On February 24, 2010, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning July 24, 2009 (subsequently amended to February 24, 2010). On August 18, 2011, she appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Although informed of her rights to representation, she chose to appear and testify without the assistance of an attorney or other representative. On September 14, 2011, an unfavorable decision was issued. On June 19, 2013, the Appeals Council remanded for further proceedings. On January 30, 2014, Plaintiff appeared and testified with counsel at a second hearing before the ALJ. An independent vocational expert and an independent orthopedic medical expert also testified. On February 20, 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. On June 29, 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. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(b). 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. § 416.920(c). 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. § 416.920(d). 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. § 416.920(e), (f). 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. § 416.920(g). 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 February 24, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, left eye blindness, and hypertension. The ALJ found that Plaintiff’s “medically determinable mental impairments of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), considered singly and in combination, do not cause more than minimal limitation in the claimant’s ability to perform basic mental work activities and are therefore nonsevere.”
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 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:
has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she is able to frequently climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She is able to stand/walk for six to eight hours in an eight-hour workday. She is able to occasionally ...