United States District Court, D. Arizona
S. WILLETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
before the Court is Plaintiff Brian Fredrick Greenfield's
(“Plaintiff”) appeal of the Social Security
Administration's (“Social Security”) denial
of his applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges disability beginning
on November 15, 2011. This Court has jurisdiction to decide
Plaintiff's appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c). Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court has
the power to enter, based upon the pleadings and transcript
of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or
without remanding the case for a rehearing. Both parties have
consented to the exercise of U.S. Magistrate Judge
jurisdiction. (Doc. 17).
reviewing the Administrative Record (“A.R.”) and
the parties' briefing (Docs. 16, 21), the Court finds
that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of
harmful legal error.
A. Disability Analysis: Five-Step Evaluation
Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides for
disability insurance benefits to those who have contributed
to the Social Security program and who suffer from a physical
or mental disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). The Act
also provides for Supplemental Security Income to certain
individuals who are aged 65 or older, blind, or disabled and
have limited income. 42 U.S.C. § 1382. To be eligible
for benefits based on an alleged disability, the claimant
must show that he or she suffers from a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that prohibits him
or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(A)(3)(A).
The claimant must also show that the impairment is expected
to cause death or last for a continuous period of at least 12
decide if a claimant is entitled to Social Security benefits,
an ALJ conducts an analysis consisting of five questions,
which are considered in sequential steps. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The claimant has the
burden of proof regarding the first four steps:
Step One: Is the claimant engaged
in “substantial gainful activity”? If so, the
analysis ends and disability benefits are denied. Otherwise,
the ALJ proceeds to step two.
Step Two: Does the claimant have a
medically severe impairment or combination of impairments? A
severe impairment is one which significantly limits the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments, disability benefits are denied at
this step. Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to step three.
Step Three: Is the impairment
equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the
Commissioner acknowledges are so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals
one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively
presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one that is
presumed to be disabling, the ALJ proceeds to the fourth step
of the analysis.
Step Four: Does the impairment
prevent the claimant from performing work which the claimant
performed in the past? If not, the claimant is “not
disabled” and disability benefits are denied without
continuing the analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f),
416.920(f). Otherwise, the ALJ proceeds to the last step.
analysis proceeds to the final question, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner:
Step Five: Can the claimant perform
other work in the national economy in light of his or her
age, education, and work experience? The claimant is entitled
to disability benefits only if he or she is unable to perform
other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).
Social Security is responsible for providing evidence that
demonstrates that other work exists in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant can do, given the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience. Id.
Standard of Review Applicable to ALJ's
Court must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence and is based on correct legal standards.
Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir.
2012); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th
Cir. 1990). Although “substantial evidence” is
less than a preponderance, it is more than a “mere
scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Id.
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the Court considers the record as a
whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts
from the ALJ's conclusions. Reddick v. Chater,
157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Tylitzki v.
Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993). If there
is sufficient evidence to support the ALJ's
determination, the Court cannot substitute its own
determination. See Morgan v. Comm'r of the Social
Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999)
(“Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that
must be upheld.”); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). This is because the ALJ, not
the Court, is responsible for resolving conflicts and
ambiguities in the evidence and determining credibility.
Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 750; see also Andrews v.
Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).
Court also considers the harmless error doctrine when
reviewing an ALJ's decision. This doctrine provides that
an ALJ's decision need not be remanded or reversed if it
is clear from the record that the error is
“inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d
1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted);
Molina, 674 F.3d at 1115 (an error is harmless so
long as there remains substantial evidence supporting the
ALJ's decision and the error “does not negate the
validity of the ALJ's ultimate conclusion”)
A. Procedural Background
who was born in 1956, has worked as an automobile mechanic.
(A.R. 44-45, 59). In 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II
application for disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI
application for supplemental security income benefits. (A.R.
214-15, 216-24). The applications allege that on January 1,
2006, Plaintiff became unable to work due to the following
impairments: (i) arthritis; (ii) back problems; (iii) high
blood pressure; (iv) diabetes; and (v) depression. (A.R. 59,
79). Social Security denied both applications on October 19,
2012. (A.R. 150-56). On June 12, 2013, upon Plaintiff's
request for reconsideration, Social Security affirmed the
denial of Plaintiff's applications. (A.R. 158-63).
Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ. (A.R. 164).
At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff amended the alleged
disability onset date to November 15, 2011. (A.R. 23, 54). On
April 24, 2014, the ALJ who conducted the hearing issued a
decision finding that Plaintiff has not been under a
disability as defined in the Social Security Act from January
1, 2006 through the date of the decision. (A.R. 23-34). The
Appeals Council denied ...