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Miracle v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 21, 2016

Carlton L. Miracle, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Neil V. Wake, Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Carlton L. Miracle 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 will be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in September 1967 and was 44 years old on the alleged disability onset date. He has a high school education and is able to communicate in English. He has both physical and mental impairments. He has worked as a telemarketer, convenience store clerk, fiberglass grinder, fork lift operator, and home health aide.

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on January 17, 2012, and for supplemental security income on January 31, 2012, alleging disability beginning January I. 2011. On December 17, 2013, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to January 3, 2012. On February 21, 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 November 24, 2015, Plaintiff sought review by this Court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A 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. Generally, when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, courts must uphold the ALJ’s findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “Overall, the standard of review is highly deferential.” Rounds v. Comm’r Soc. Sec. Admin., 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir. 2015).

         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 meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012, and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 3, 2012. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: chronic pain syndrome, arthralgias, degenerative disease of the left knee and cervical spine, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, mood disorder including substance-induced mood disorder, depression/dysthymia, major depression with psychotic features, psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, and polysubstance abuse and dependence. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of 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 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant needs to be afforded the option to alternate sit and stand during the work day allowing him to sit for up to 30 minutes and standing up to 30 minutes as needed, avoid climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolding with occasional climbing of ramps/stairs and kneeling. Mental restrictions include limitations to simple, routine, repetitive tasks not performing in a fast-paced production environment with occasional interaction to coworkers and the general public.

         The ALJ further found that Plaintiff is 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 are jobs that exist in ...


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