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Walker v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 5, 2016

Danny Ray Walker, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID G. CAMPBELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Danny Ray Walker, Jr. seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied him 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.

         On July 20, 2012 Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning June 24, 2011. On January 7, 2014, he appeared with his attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On March 10, 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 decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

         II. Legal Standard.

         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, but less than a preponderance, of 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).

         Harmless error principles apply in the Social Security Act context. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1115 (9th Cir. 2012). An error is harmless if there remains substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision and the error does not affect the ultimate nondisability determination. Id. The claimant usually bears the burden of showing that an error is harmful. Id. at 1111.

         The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts in medical testimony, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). In reviewing the ALJ's reasoning, the court is “not deprived of [its] faculties for drawing specific and legitimate inferences from the ALJ's opinion.” Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 755 (9th Cir. 1989).

         III. The ALJ's Five-Step 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 at step five the burden shifts to the Commissioner. 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 (“RFC”) 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 RFC, 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 has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 20, 2012. A.R. 19. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bilateral chondromalacia patella and cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease. Id. 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 Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. Id. at 21. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform:

Sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except lifting and/or carrying a maximum of 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; standing and/or walking 4 hours in an 8-hour workday; sitting 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; but needs a sit/stand at will option; pushing and pulling within these weight restrictions; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, kneel, crouch, and crawl; frequently balance and stoop; and he needs to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards.

Id. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. Id. at 27. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Id. at 27-28.

         IV. Analysis.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is defective for three reasons: (1) the ALJ failed to properly weigh medical source opinions, (2) the ALJ failed to properly weigh Plaintiff's reported limitations, (3) the ALJ did not properly weigh the report of Plaintiff's mother, Gayla Walker. Doc. 21. The Court will address each argument.

         A. Weighing of Medical Source Evidence.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinions of Dr. ...


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