United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. CAMPBELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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
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.
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
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.
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.
The ALJ's Five-Step Evaluation Process.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Weighing of Medical Source Evidence.
argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinions
of Dr. ...