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Batterton v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 15, 2016

Gregory A. Batterton, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.


          Honorable G. Murray Snow, Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Gregory A. Batterton's (“Batterton”) appeal challenging the Social Security Administration's decision to deny benefits. (Doc. 13.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms that decision.


         Batterton was injured in a car accident when he was eighteen years old. (Tr. 32.) For fourteen to fifteen years, he worked primarily as a building maintenance repair man and a home painter. (Tr. 51.) However, over the last few years he was forced to reduce the hours he worked due to the pain from his earlier injuries. (Tr. 56.) He does not currently work, and he has not been employed since February of 2013. (Tr. 49.)

         On April 2, 2012, Batterton filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2011. (Tr. 222-31.) After Batterton's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, he requested a hearing, which the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Thomas Cheffins, held on May 20, 2013. (Tr. 40-73.) During this hearing, Batterton and a vocational expert testified. (Id.) On December 17, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Batterton not disabled. (Tr. 24-34.)

         Batterton testified that he has symptoms as a result of his impairments which prevent him from sustaining full-time employment. (Tr. 50-51.) Specifically, Batterton testified that he suffers from the inability to lift his arms or look up and down; shoulder pain which radiates down his right arm into his fingers; back pain; neck pain, and chronic, debilitating headaches. (Tr. 50-52, 54-55, 57.) He asserts that narcotic pain medication causes him side effects such as dizziness, nausea, bad dreams, not being able to sleep well, constipation, and addiction. (Tr. 53.) Also, Batterton testified that he is unable stand for longer than ten to thirty minutes, after which he needs to lie down to get relief from the resulting pain. (Tr. 57.)

         In evaluating whether Batterton was disabled, the ALJ undertook the five-step sequential evaluation for determining disability.[1] (Tr. 25-26.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Batterton meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act. (Tr. at 26.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Batterton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 26.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Batterton suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disk disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”). (Tr. 27.) At step four, the ALJ determined that none of these impairments, either alone or in combination, met or equaled any of the Social Security Administration's listed impairments. (Tr. 28.)

         At that point, the ALJ made a determination of Batterton's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), [2] concluding that Batterton could “perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b).” (Tr. 29.) In so finding, the ALJ found that the claimant could perform work that “involves no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; no more than frequent balancing; no more than occasional climbing of ramps or stairs[, ]. . . stooping, crouching, kneeling and crawling[, ] and . . . bilateral overhead reaching.” (Tr. 29.) The ALJ thus determined at step four that Batterton did not retain the RFC to perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. 32-33.) The ALJ reached step five, concluding in that Batterton could perform a significant number of other jobs in the national economy despite his limitations. (Tr. 33-34.) Given this analysis, the ALJ concluded that Batterton was not disabled. (Tr. 34.)

         The Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (Tr. 1-6.) Batterton filed the complaint underlying this action on August 15, 2015, seeking this Court's review of the ALJ's denial of benefits.[3] (Doc. 13.) The matter is now fully briefed. (Doc. 15, 16.)


         I. Standard of Review

         A reviewing federal court will only address the issues raised by the claimant in the appeal from the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). A federal court may set aside a denial of disability benefits only if that denial is either unsupported by substantial evidence or based on legal error. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). “When the evidence before the ALJ is subject to more than one rational interpretation, we must defer to the ALJ's conclusion.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). This is so because “[t]he [ALJ] and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in 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) (citations omitted).

         II. Analysis

         On appeal, Mr. Batterton argues that the ALJ erred by rejecting his symptom testimony in the absence of specific, clear, and convincing reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (Doc. 13 at 10.) He also asserts that the appropriate remedy in this case would be to vacate the ALJ's ruling and to remand this matter for a determination of benefits. (Doc. 13 at 17.) For the following reasons, the Court affirms the ruling of the ALJ.

         A. The ALJ provided “Specific, Clear, and Convincing” Reasons for Finding that Batterton's ...

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