United States District Court, D. Arizona
Thomas W. Doran, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.
A. Teilborg, Senior United States District Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff Thomas W. Doran's appeal
from the Social Security Commissioner's (the
"Commissioner's") partial denial of his
application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff argues that the administrative law judge
("ALJ") erred by: (1) finding Plaintiffs
impairments do not meet Listing 1.04(A)'s criteria; (2)
failing to allow a medical expert to testify during the
administrative hearing; and (3) finding Plaintiffs testimony
to be non-credible. The Court now rules on Plaintiffs appeal.
filed for disability insurance benefits on October 31, 2006,
alleging disability as of January 25, 2006. He also filed a
concurrent application for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
In September 2011, an ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
disabled as of December 2, 2009. The Appeals Council affirmed
the ALJ's finding but remanded for reconsideration of
certain evidence relating to the time before December 2,
2009. Notably, Plaintiff sought a determination that he was
disabled before December 31, 2008, the date on which he was
last insured for disability benefits. On remand, however, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not disabled before December 2,
2009. At issue here is whether substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff was not
disabled before December 2, 2009.
was born on December 3, 1954. He has a high-school equivalent
education ("GED") and two years of college. (Tr.
31-32). Plaintiff served in the military from
1974 to 1981 (Tr. 238, 585). His subsequent employment
included administrative, banking, and service work. (Tr.
31-32, 126-27, 148-49, 238, 260). The vocational expert
classified Plaintiff's past relevant work as skilled and
semi-skilled, ranging from sedentary to a medium exertional
level. (Tr. 44-46).
claims that he suffers from an extensive list of impairments,
including "degenerative disc disease of the cervical and
lumbar spine, seizure disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorder with panic
attacks." (Doc. 13 at 3). Plaintiff received extensive
treatment for both his physical and mental impairments, which
this Court summarized in its earlier Order. See Doran v.
Astrue, No. CV-10-8155-PCT-LOA, 2011 WL 4032320, at
*2-12 (D. Ariz. Sept. 12, 2011).
ALJ's decision to deny benefits will be overturned
"only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or
is based on legal error." Magallanes v. Bowen,
881 F.2d747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation omitted).
"Substantial evidence" means more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).
inquiry here is whether the record, read as a whole, yields
such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the
conclusions reached by the ALJ." Gallant v.
Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984) (citation
omitted). In determining whether there is substantial
evidence to support a decision, the Court considers the
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
the ALJ's conclusions and the evidence that detracts from
the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720.
"Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational
interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion which must be
upheld; and in reaching his findings, the ALJ is entitled to
draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence."
Gallant, 753 F.2d at 1453 (citations omitted);
see Batson v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin.,
359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This is because
"[t]he trier of fact and not the reviewing court must
resolve conflicts in the evidence, and if the evidence can
support either outcome, the court may not substitute its
judgment for that of the ALJ." Matney v.
Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992); see
also Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir.
is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony,
determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
Thus, if on the whole record before the Court, substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court
must affirm it. See Hammock v. Bow en, 879 F.2d 498,
501 (9th Cir. 1989); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (2012). On the other hand, the Court "may not
affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630
(9th Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted).
the Court is not charged with reviewing the evidence and
making its own judgment as to whether Plaintiff is or is not
disabled. Rather, the Court's inquiry is constrained to
the reasons asserted by the ALJ and the evidence relied upon
in support of those reasons. See Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003).
Definition of Disability
qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security
Act, a claimant must show that, among other things, he is
"under a disability." 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E)
(2012). The Social Security Act defines
"disability" as the "inability to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months." Id. § 423(d)(1)(A). A person is:
under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment
or impairments are of such severity that he is not only
unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his
age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind
of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).
Five-Step Evaluation Process
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
process for evaluating disability claims. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4) (2016); see also Reddick, 157 F.3d at
721. A finding of "not disabled" at any step in the
sequential process will end the inquiry. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proof at the
first four steps, but the burden shifts to the Commissioner
at the final step. Reddick, 157F.3dat721. The five
steps are as follows:
First, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is "doing
substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled.
the claimant is not gainfully employed, the ALJ next
determines whether the claimant has a "severe medically
determinable physical or mental impairment."
Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(h). To be considered
severe, the impairment must "significantly limit [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities." Id. § 404.1520(c). Basic work
activities are the "abilities and aptitudes to do most
jobs, " such as lifting, carrying, reaching,
understanding, carrying out and remembering simple
instructions, responding appropriately to co-workers, and
dealing with changes in routine. Id. §
404.1521(b). Further, the impairment must either have lasted
for "a continuous period of at least twelve months,
" be expected to last for such a period, or be expected
"to result in death." Id. § 404.1509
(incorporated by reference in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(h)). The "step-two inquiry is a de
minimis screening device to dispose of groundless
claims." Smolen v. Chafer, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290
(9th Cir. 1996). If the claimant does not have a severe
impairment, then the claimant is not disabled.
Having found a severe impairment, the ALJ next determines
whether the impairment "meets or equals" one of the
impairments listed in the regulations. 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If so, the claimant is found
disabled without further inquiry. If not, before proceeding
to the next step, the ALJ will make a finding regarding the
claimant's "residual functional capacity
["RFC"] based on all the relevant medical and other
evidence in [the] case record." Id. §
404.1520(e). A claimant's RFC is the most he can still do
despite all his impairments, including those that are not
severe, and any related symptoms. Id. §
step four, the ALJ determines whether, despite the
impairments, the claimant can still perform "past
relevant work." Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
To make this determination, the ALJ compares his RFC
"assessment. . . with the physical and mental demands of
[the claimant's] past relevant work." Id.
§ 404.1520(f). If the claimant can still perform the
kind of work he ...