United States District Court, D. Arizona
NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.
Plaintiff William Rodgers 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.
Plaintiff was born in April 1962. He completed three years of college and worked as an electrician. He has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression.
On January 28, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2009. On March 8, 2012, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. On March 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
On March 11, 2013, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review under the substantial evidence provision of the Social Security Administration regulations, 20 C.F.R. § 404.970. Under the authority of 20 C.F.R. § 404.977, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's hearing decision and remanded the case to the ALJ with instructions.
On March 5, 2013, the ALJ held a video hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified. On February 6, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. On April 17, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision, making the ALJ's February 6, 2014 decision the Commissioner's final decision. On June 1, 2015, Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's February 6, 2014 decision by this Court.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The district 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. 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
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). 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.
In his March 26, 2012 decision, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2012, and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2009. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairment: adjustment disorder with mixed emotional expression. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did 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 a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant is capable of simple, unskilled work.
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in ...